AMU Cyber & AI Homeland Security Intelligence North America Opinion Privacy

Cyberattacks Emerging as Top U.S. National Security Concern

By Jamie Smith, Esq.
Special to

Cyberattacks are initiated by a wide variety of groups including criminal gangs, foreign nations, and hackers.  Their targets include the systems that touch on nearly every aspect of American life.  These include the systems that control our power supplies, water supplies, transportation, telecommunications, financial transactions, and even our nuclear weapons. Additionally, personal data held by governmental agencies and private corporations alike is also susceptible to cyberattack.

There is little doubt that both the private and public sectors have become increasingly reliant on technology over the past several years. Most officials agree that there is an urgent need to ensure that information transmitted and stored electronically is safe from cyberattack. General Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency, recently disclosed that cyberattacks targeting American infrastructure increased 17% between 2009 and 2011. Robert Muller, head of the FBI, expressed his belief that cybersecurity will surpass terrorism as the top threat U.S. national security in the coming years. Echoing these concerns, President Obama has urged Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to address these growing threats.

Congress seemed poised to act this year when Joe Liberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2012.  The Act would have provided necessary protections to the nation’s critical infrastructure, granted the government greater authority to share information, and strengthened the government’s ability to act to combat the growing threat of cyberattacks. However, Congress recessed for the summer without passing the Cybersecurity Act or any legislation related to cybersecurity.

Despite the widespread acknowledgment that cybersecurity legislation is necessary the Cybsersecurity Act faced many hurdles.  Many in private industry expressed concern about the costs companies would be required to shoulder to increase cybersecurity measures. Privacy advocates also expressed concern about the ability of businesses to gather personal information and share it with the government.  Moreover, many unrelated riders to the bill were proposed that impeded support for the bill.  These ranged from an amendment related to restrictions on abortion to an amendment seeking to ban high-capacity ammunition clips.

Nevertheless, the government and private industry will continue to determine how to best respond to the threat to U.S. national security posed by cyberattacks.  It is possible that Congress will attempt to pass new legislation when they reconvene or that the President will issue an executive order directing governmental agencies to take action.  This is an emerging issue that all national security practitioners should watch carefully.

Sanger, D. E. and Schitt, E. (2012, July 26).  Rise Is Seen in Cyberattacks Targeting U.S. Infrastructure.  The New York Times. Retrieved from

Couts, A. (2012, August 2).  Senate Kills Cybersecurity Act of 2012.  Digital Trends.  Retrieved from

About the Author

Jamie has been teaching since 2006.  She is currently a full-time faculty member in National Security Studies program at American Military University.  In her time at APUS, Jamie has taught numerous undergraduate and graduate classes.

Jamie received a J.D and an M.A. in International Affairs with a concentration in international law and organizations from the George Washington University.  Jamie also holds a certificate in International Human Rights law from Oxford University.  She is licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia.  As a practicing attorney, Jamie focuses on civil litigation.  She also has extensive appellate experience and has worked on high-profile cases involving complex litigation.  Jamie is also a certified mediator.


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