First Coast Connect: Former CIA Agent Discusses Cyber Hacking Threat

Feb 13, 2017

T. L. Williams, former CIA veteran and author, on the global threat of cyber hacking

Former Central Intelligence Agency operative and local author T. L. Williams said government leaders are overlooking a national security threat.

 

Williams discussed the global threat of cyber hacking Monday on First Coast Connect, saying the greatest danger to America isn’t recruiters from ISIS but hackers from China. He describes the scenario in the third novel of the Logan Alexander fiction series, “ZERO DAY: China's Cyber Wars.”

 

“The net result of china’s cyber hacking against the U.S. is the largest transfer of wealth in history,” Williams said. “They do it through phishing attacks — and more sophisticated attacks against government, private institutions and individuals.”

 

Williams said China hackers steal hundreds of terabytes of data from the U.S., including proprietary information from businesses, defense contractors, and the government every year.

 

“When I lived in China, I became aware that China was basically a surveillance society,” Williams said.

 

The biggest threat to American safety in the 21st century might be found in cyberspace. Williams said although China does not have the same levels of military and economic power, they could attack our banking system using probes, which would become a “catastrophic event.”

 

Williams said a cyber attack from China poses more risk to U.S. safety than a terrorist attack from ISIS because “its actions are financially debilitating,” especially if attacks are targeted to banks.

 

Williams added the use of 'smart devices’ by Americans are “leaving ourselves open to unrelenting cyber exploitation by our adversaries.”

 

“The amount of sensitive information being transmitted on these devices is hard to quantify and its content ranges from the mundane to the sublime,” he said.

 

He said citizens have a responsibility to secure their own privacy.

 

“Some main ways to thwart hackers is to be alert to phishing attacks,” Williams said. “Take anything that's really sensitive—that doesn't need to be accessible from the Internet—  and keep it on a disc.”

 

Williams retired from the CIA in 2009. His latest novel revolves around protagonist Logan Alexander, a CIA officer moving between Chongqing, China and Langley, Virginia against a plot by the Chinese government to seize the edge on global power by undermining the U.S. economy. Armed with an underground force of hackers, China’s Ministry of Public Security has a mission: to destroy confidence in the dollar by launching persistent, aggressive cyber attacks on America’s banking system.

 

Williams will be at the Bookmark bookstore in Neptune Beach at 7 p.m. Thursday for a book signing and 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday at the San Carlos bookstore.

News Intern Joy Kader can be reached at newsteam@wjct.org or on Twitter at @joykader95.