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US: Cyber attacks pose serious threat

WASHINGTON — Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said today that cyber threats posed a “quiet, stealthy, insidious” danger to the United States and other nations, and called for “rules of the road” to guide behaviour and avoid conflict on global computer networks.

Hagel said he would address cyber security in his speech on Saturday to the Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore and the issue was likely to come up in a brief meeting with Chinese delegates on the margins of the conference.

“Cyber threats are real, they’re terribly dangerous,” Hagel told reporters on his plane en route to the gathering. “They’re probably as insidious and real a threat (as there is) to the United States, as well as China, by the way, and every nation.”

Cyber conflict could lead to “quiet, stealthy, insidious, dangerous outcomes”, from taking down power grids to destroying financial systems or neutralising defence networks, Hagel said.

“That’s not a unique threat to the United States, (it affects) everybody, so we’ve got to find ways here … working with the Chinese, working with everybody, (to develop) rules of the road, some international understandings, some responsibility that governments have to take,” he said.

Hagel’s remarks came two days after news reports said the Defence Science Board – a committee of civilian experts who advise the Defence Department – had concluded that Chinese hackers have gained access to the designs of more than two dozen major US weapons systems in recent years. The Pentagon downplayed the report as outdated and overstated.

But the Defence Department underscored its concern about Chinese hacking in a separate report to Congress earlier this month, accusing Beijing of using cyber espionage to modernise its military.

The report said the US government had been the target of hacking that appeared to be “attributable directly to the Chinese government and military”. (Reuters)

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