General Keith Alexander, U.S. Cyber Command chief and the director of the National Security Agency, said that the loss of intellectual property due to cyber attacks amounts to the “greatest transfer of wealth in human history.”
Alexander made the comment while addressing an audience at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on Monday in Washington, D.C., and cited statistics form multiple security vendors as an indication of the magnitude of the problem.
"Symantec placed the cost of IP theft to United States companies at $250 billion a year. Global cybercrime at $114 billion - nearly $388 billion when you factor in downtime. And McAfee estimates that $1 trillion was spent globally on remediation. And that's our future disappearing in front of us," Alexander said.
Alexander advocates greater cooperation between between government agencies charged with law enforcement responsibilities and defending national security.
Alexander has previously explained the federal partnership for cyber security as one in which Homeland Security leads in creating the infrastructure to protect U.S. interests, Cyber Command defends against attacks, FBI conducts criminal investigations, and the intelligence community gathers overseas information that could indicate attacks.
“The reality is to defend the country in this area is its going to take real-time capability and sharing, and it’s going to take the FBI, DHS, DOD and the [intelligence community] working together to make that happen,” Alexander told the audience.
Echoing the recent sentiments expressed in a recent letter to Congress drafted by a host of former military and intelligence leaders who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, Alexander urged lawmakers to move forward with the passage of cybersecurity legislation currently under consideration.
"This cybersecurity legislation coming up is going to be very important to the future of this country," Alexander stated.
Alexander previously told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supports legislation that would require private companies to report attacks, and added that such reporting needs to happen in real time during the course of an attack.
“One of the things we have to have, then, is if the critical infrastructure community is being attacked by something, we need them to tell us at network speed. It doesn’t require the government to read their mail, or your mail to do that. It has to be at network speed if you're going to stop it,” Alexander told the AEI audience.
Alexander also responded to allegations of over-reaching domestic surveillance of citizens that have been made by a variety of vocal privacy and civil liberties groups recently, dismissing the assertions as unfounded.
“We don’t store data on U.S. citizens. That’s baloney… That’s ludicrous... [However] I’m not going to come out and say what we are doing. That would be ludicrous, too."
Alexander strongly believes that the defense of the nations critical infrastructure and the intellectual property of the private sector can be achieved without undermining individual liberties.
"We can do the protection of civil liberties and privacy and cybersecurity as a nation. Not only that we can, but I believe it's something that we must do."