The fastest-growing cyber threat is from a kind of digital mass shooter, a deranged or outraged hacker able to obtain cyberweapons currently available only to nation-states and organized crime, a former senior U.S. intelligence official said Thursday.
“They’re just mad, they’re mad at the world,” said retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden. “They may have demands that you or I cannot understand.”
Mr. Hayden warned that within five years hackers “will acquire the [cyberattack] capabilities that we now associate with criminal gangs or nation states,” such as being able to conduct online sabotage of industrial control systems that run power plants, factories and utilities.
U.S. intelligence chiefs have fretted publicly about the vulnerability to such attacks on the nation’s industries, financial systems and communication networks, saying they could cause casualties and mass dislocation.
Other analysts say that the kind of total war envisioned in such attacks against the civilian population would not be in the interest of any nation-state, and that terrorists lack the capability to stage them.
But the warning from Mr. Hayden — who held several intelligence posts under President George W. Bush — raises the prospect that a lone, unbalanced hacker might seek to generate chaos, for example, contaminating the water supply of a major city.
Mr. Hayden, who headed the CIA and the National Security Agency at different times, spoke at a cybersecurity panel discussion organized and webcast by The Washington Post.
His warning was echoed by Craig Mundie, a senior adviser to the CEO of Microsoft Corp. and fellow panelist.
Mr. Mundie said that, when a cyberweapon is used, “every bad guy in the world gets to watch.”
And because of that, “this [cyberattack] capability escalates globally very rapidly,” he said.