Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, took the stand in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday and an ambitious expansion of the Pentagon's Cyber Command. "We've seen the attacks on Wall Street over the last six months grow significantly," Alexander told the senators, explaining that denial of service (DOS) attacks are the most common assault on banks' websites. "And if you look at industry, especially the anti-virus community and others, they believe it's going to grow more in 2013. And there's a lot that we need to do to prepare for this."
The general wasn't kidding. Within an hour or so of Alexander's testimony reports that Chase Bank's website had been hacked started to bubble up. Shortly before 7 p.m. Chase confirmed to CNBC that they had indeed been targeted. Hackers hit Chase with — you guessed it — a DOS attack, bringing down the company's website. It's unclear if any customer data was compromised. It's also absolutely unclear if the hack has anything to do with the series of hearings in the Senate on Tuesday that mention cyber security and the threat of a cyber attack. Hacking into a bank's website right after the head of the NSA warns the Senate about hackers hacking into banks' websites is certainly a clever way to win attention.
The nation's leaders would like you to think that these attacks hold the potential to be a much bigger deal in the near future. They're not just for the lulz any more. In a separate hearing on Tuesday, director of national intelligence James Clapper identified cyber attacks as the number one threat facing the United States this year. That's ahead of terrorism, which has topped the list every year since 2001, save one in 2009 when the financial crisis earned the honor. Clapper alluded to foreign governments hacking into both public and private computer networks in the U.S. as well as that ever-threatening scenario of a catastrophic attack. (Barack Obama still wins the award for scariest cyber attack scenario.) The hacking is here, and it's getting worse.
Look at it this way: the Chase hackers really did Alexander and Clapper a favor. Imagine the cyber attack were a water balloon. What better way to drive home the point that we're at risk than telling the nation to watch out, stand back while the balloon hits them in the head and says, "Told you it would be a good idea to duck."