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China and Russia could disrupt critical national infrastructure in the US, says intelligence report

January 30, 2019

Both China and Russia are capable of launching cyberattacks that could bring down electricity networks or hospitals, according to the latest annual US Worldwide Threat Assessment.

The threats: The 42-page report, compiled by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, cites cyberattacks, online misinformation, and election interference as the top security concerns facing the US today. It identifies China and Russia as the biggest sources of potential attacks on US infrastructure (it provides the example of natural-gas pipelines), with the ability to cause disruption for days or even weeks. The review said Russia could carry out cyber-espionage and launch influence campaigns similar to those conducted during the 2016 US presidential election, and that is “becoming more adept at using social media to alter how we think, behave, and decide.”

Chinese competition: Unsurprisingly, the report identifies China as America’s most active competitor when it comes to cyber-espionage. It believes Chinese IT firms are being used to spy on the US, an official view that helps explain the recent treatment of Huawei by the US and certain allies.

Future tech: The report says the technology-related risks it identifies will only increase as people integrate billions of new digital devices into their personal lives and workplaces. It warns that the US’s overall lead in science and technology will continue to shrink. And it cites several emerging technologies that could enable new threats: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and 5G networks.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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