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A top CIA official has accused Russia and China of developing hacker tools in preparation for a possible future attack on America's computing infrastructure.

In an appearance before Congress's Joint Economic Committee, Lawrence Gershwin, the CIA's leading advisor on science and technology, said China and Russia, and several other unnamed countries (which includes the US, let's not forget), have "active programs" to develop an offensive cyber war capability.

Gershwin admitted that, for all the efforts intelligence agencies have put into investigating the problem, crackers are developing tools faster than the CIA can keep up. This means it can't do the same job of predicting threats that come from the Internet as it does for political or military problems.

He said that for the next few years the most potent threat to America's computing infrastructure came from hostile governments but didn't rule out attacks from terrorists, who he suggested still prefer conventional bombs.

Reuters reports that Gershwin said "bombs still work better than bytes" for terrorists but he added the caveat that "we anticipate more substantial cyber threats in the future as a more technically competent generation enters the terrorist ranks."

Lone troublemakers, according to Gershwin, lack either the skills or motive to launch a crippling attack against any of the key components of America's national computing infrastructure, such as its phone system or banking networks. To address the problem he called for greater cooperation between government agencies, the private sector and IT firms and its a shame more emphasis was not put on this important point.

There was little in detail about what terrible tools were in development in preparation for some future cyber "Pearl Harbour" in US reports of what Gershwin said or any other tangible facts.

Call us cynical, but it's hard not to come away with the impression that Gershwin's presentation was more of an appeal for Congressional funds than a warning of some clear and present danger to America's PC and servers from Godless commies.

Perhaps we're being unfair because a great deal of financial damage and inconvenience could conceivably by caused by denial of service attacks or (targeted) viruses but a sensible debate on the subject is not helped by continual dire warnings of impending doom. ®

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