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Former US Cyber Command chief: US not ready for ‘dirty’ cyber bomb from ISIS, al Qaeda

Staff Sgt. Wendell Myler, a cyber warfare operations journeyman assigned to the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group of the Maryland Air National Guard monitors live cyber attacks on the operations floor of the 27th Cyberspace Squadron, known as the Hunter's Den, at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Md., June 3, 2017. (J.M. Eddins Jr./U.S. Air Force)
September 16, 2019

The former deputy head of the U.S. Cyber Command this week said the United States must take preventative measures to stop terrorists from launching a cyber attack, which could be devastating.

In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post  Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Vincent Stewart warned of the effect of cyber attack on a nation’s infrastructure. Stewart offered his comments from the sidelines of a counter-terror conference hosted by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC).

He said the United States takes the threat of cyber attacks from nation-states like Russia or China seriously, but less so from terrorist organizations like ISIS or al-Qaeda, which have fewer resources and less technical infrastructure.

A “dirty” cyber bomb from a terrorist organization, however, could “have the same effects as a ‘dirty’ [nuclear] bomb,” Stewart said.

He also warned against taking a timid “conservative” approach to escalating against antagonistic countries like Russia, a criticism he laid on former President Barrack Obama’s administration.

“Russia will not back off unless we stand up and show that we are willing to fight back. But if you push too hard, you risk ultimate escalation. So which is it? Push back and risk ultimate escalation or deescalate?” he asked.

“It is foolish to watch any adversary and just let them clean up [against you] and do nothing in response,” Stewart said.

He said that type of behavior encourages adversarial countries to continue their efforts against the United States.

“We are all on the front lines… We are all so connected and part of the global interconnected network,” he said. “Refrigerators are now connected. The last intrusion I saw came through an aquarium because the salt water aquarium’s lights are timed and networked. We are all vulnerable.”

Georgia Cyber Center Executive Director Eric Toler previously warned that enemies of the United States could target key infrastructure in cyber attacks.

“We’ve been very fortunate not to have that type of attack yet, but I think it’s only a matter of time,” said during an interview with the Aiken Standard, during the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s monthly breakfast forum.

Toler had previously served in key U.S. Army Cyber Command and National Security Agency positions.

In his remarks, he pointed to threats from Iran, North Korea, China and Russia.

“It takes a team to defeat this adversary,” Toler said. “Because when you look at a China or a Russia, they don’t have the separation of government and academia and private industry. It’s all one thing. They control it, so they can leverage that as they see fit.”