Alex Wong / Getty Images
For the top intelligence agencies in the US, technology has pushed aside terrorism as a top national security threat.
The leaders of six of those agencies, including the CIA, the NSA and the FBI, are testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, during its annual “Worldwide Threats” hearing. They discussed concerns ranging from terrorist attacks to nuclear strikes. But a major portion of the hearing was dedicated to discussing threats coming from technology.
That scope isn’t just limited to political cyberattacks and hacking critical infrastructure. In his opening statement, Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s vice chairman, highlighted his concerns about Russians spreading propaganda through Facebook, Google and Twitter, an issue the Democrat from Virginia has pressed the Silicon Valley tech titans on before.
Warner called out Russian bots and trolls spread across social media, and their potential to affect future elections.
“This is a dangerous trend. This campaign of innuendo and misinformation should alarm us all, Republican and Democrat alike,” Warner said.
Watch the Senate hearing live, via CBS News.
The director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, said cybersecurity was his “greatest concern” and “top priority” in his opening statement, putting it ahead of threats like weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.
“From US businesses to the federal government to state and local governments, the United States is threatened by cyberattacks every day,” Coats said.
Those worries aren’t new. In December, President Trump issued a national security strategy documenet that described, citing threats including hackers from criminal enterprises and places like Russia, China and Iran.That document came at the end of a long year of incidents ranging from the to revelations of Russian misinformation campaigns waged through the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Coats also described threats from foreign propaganda online, pointing out that they are low-cost and low-risk for attackers. He told the committee that Russian operatives viewed the propaganda campaign during the 2016 election as a success, and warned it would continue.
“There is no doubt that Russia sees the 2018 elections as a target,” Coats said.
Warner said that the fact that Coats started the discussion with cybersecurity was “very telling in terms of how we view worldwide threats.”
Sen. Richard Burr, the committee’s chairman, directed his questions about cybersecurity to NSA director Michael Rogers. The Republican from North Carolina wanted to know how protected the US’ critical infrastructure, from its computers to its energy supply, was from cyberattacks.
“Cyber is clearly the most challenging threat vector this country faces,” Burr said. “It’s also one of the most concerning, given how many aspects of our daily lives can be disrupted by a well-planned, well-executed cyberattack.”
Rogers highlighted issues surrounding Internet-of-things devices, pointing out how widespread they are and their lack of security. Connected devices have faced criticism for having insecure settings, causing major cyberattacks in the past.
“If you think the problem is challenging now, just wait, it’s going to get much, much worse,” Rogers said.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.
Security: Stay up-to-date on the latest in breaches, hacks, fixes and all those cybersecurity issues that keep you up at night.
iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.