Al Qaeda may be turning its destructive attention to cyber-warfare against the United States. In a chilling video, an al Qaeda operative calls for "electronic jihad" against the United States, and compares vulnerabilities in vital American computer networks to the flaws in aviation security before the 9/11 attack.
The al Qaeda video calls upon the "covert mujahidin" to launch cyber attacks against the U.S. networks of both government and critical infrastructure, including the electric grid. The video was obtained by the FBI last year, and released today by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
"This is the clearest evidence we've seen that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups want to attack the cyber systems of our critical infrastructure," Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said in a statement.
"This video is troubling as it urges al Qaeda adherents to launch a cyber attack on America," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking member on the committee. "It's clear that al Qaeda is exploring all means to do us harm and this is evidence that our critical infrastructure is a target."
The national security community says the threat of cyber attack is real, and the gap between terrorist aspirations and capability is closing. The senior intelligence official at Cyber Command, Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, has said al Qaeda operatives are seeking the capability to stage cyber attacks against U.S. networks and terrorists could purchase the capabilities to do so from expert criminal hackers.
Increasing evidence also suggests that Iran is looking to commit cyber attacks against the United States, according to testimony last month before the House Committee on Homeland Security. Iran's sponsorship of terrorist groups takes on a new dimension in cyberspace, where it could develop a powerful cyber weapon and pass it on to a terrorist group.
Lieberman is using the al Qaeda video to underline what he says is the need for new legislation..
"Congress needs to act now to protect the American public from a possible devastating attack on our electric grid, water delivery systems, or financial networks," he said. "As numerous, bipartisan national security experts have said, minimum cyber security standards for those networks are necessary to protect our national and economic security. That is why the Senate needs to act on our bipartisan Cyber Security Act that requires minimum security performance requirements for key critical infrastructure cyber networks."
The Homeland Security Committee says the Department of Homeland Security received more than 50,000 reports of cyber intrusions or attempted intrusions since October, an increase of 10,000 reports over the same period the previous year.