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Retired General: U.S. 'Hugely Vulnerable' To Cyber Attacks

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The United States is still "hugely vulnerable" to cyber attacks, but so are most other nations, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday.

"We're way late" in preparing to defend critical computer systems from hackers, enemies and others, retired Marine Gen. Peter Pace said.

Pace was chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the nation's highest military post, under then-President George W. Bush from 2005 until 2007. He spoke at the Space Foundation's Cyber 1.1 conference in Colorado Springs.

Pace said the U.S. probably has the strongest offensive cyber capabilities of any nation, and it has employed cyber attacks in the past. After his remarks, he declined to say how many times that has happened, or to describe the circumstances.

Pace said the federal government should set security requirements for critical computer networks in the private sector, such as banking and finance.

Uniform requirements would prevent one corporation from gaining a competitive advantage by ignoring expensive upgrades. He also said it would encourage innovation by creating demand for security measures.

"We need to help prime that pump," said Pace, now president and CEO of SM&A, a management consulting firm.

Roger Cressey, an adviser on cyber security and counterterrorism under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, told the conference that data manipulation – surreptitiously altering critical information on computer networks – is an underrated threat to cyber security

"The government makes decisions based on the assumption of accuracy of the data it's using," Cressey said in an interview later. "If a creative adversary doesn't steal, but just manipulates, that throws our decision-making process into disarray."

He said the banking and financial system, with trillions of dollars of international transactions at stake, could also suffer.

Cressey, now a senior vice president for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, said he's not aware of any large-scale data manipulation attacks to date.

Gen. William Shelton, head of the Air Force Space Command, told the conference the U.S. military still faces challenges in cyberspace, especially in "situational awareness" – a military term for knowing not only where an enemy is, but where it has been, where it's going and what its intentions are.

Shelton said computer-enabled weapons such as remotely piloted aircraft represent the future of warfare.

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