US cyberthreat at 'critical point', says intelligence chief Dan Coats

Coats (above) branded Russia the most “aggressive foreign actor”.
Coats (above) branded Russia the most “aggressive foreign actor”.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The threat of cyberattacks against the US is at a "critical point," the country's intelligence chief has warned, branding Russia the most "aggressive foreign actor" ahead of President Donald Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin.

"The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. It is why I believe we are at a critical point," national intelligence director Dan Coats said on Friday (July 13) at an event in Washington.

"Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack... with the worst offenders being Russia, China, Iran and North Korea," he said.

"Every day they are penetrating our digital infrastructure and conducting a range of cyber intrusions and attacks against targets in the United States."

Coats said they target businesses, all levels of government, private institutions and elements of "critical infrastructure" - adding they are intended to undermine democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether there are elections.

He identified Russia as the most aggressive, "no question."

His comments came as 12 Russian intelligence officers were charged Friday with hacking Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic Party, as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference and potential Trump campaign collusion with Moscow.

 

Coats said that in the run up to mid-term elections later this year, the US has not yet seen electoral interference similar to that experienced in 2016.

"However," he added, "we realise we are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself."