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Understanding the Threat

The United States today faces very real, very grave national security threats. Extremism and international terrorism flourish in too many areas of the world, threatening our warfighters, our allies and our homeland. Regional conflicts can have serious effects on U.S. national interests. Hostile foreign governments and terrorists trade in, or seek to acquire, weapons of mass destruction and/or the materials to produce them. Tons of illegal drugs are smuggled into our country each year.

The newest threats we face, and perhaps the fastest growing, are those in cyberspace. Cyber threats to U.S. national and economic security increase each year in frequency, scope and severity of impact. Cyber criminals, hackers and foreign adversaries are becoming more sophisticated and capable every day in their ability to use the Internet for nefarious purposes.

As a nation, we are dependent on the Internet – we use it for everything. We communicate online, bank and shop online, and store much of our personal information there. In business, education and government, we all count on having ready access to the Internet and its many capabilities as we go about our daily routines. The Internet opens up new worlds to users.

But while cyberspace offers great opportunities, it also comes with vulnerabilities. Our information networks and technology are constantly at risk from a variety of bad actors using a multitude of techniques – remote hacking intrusions, the placement of malware, spearphishing and other means of gaining access to networks and information.

Some of these bad actors are criminals motivated by profit, particularly in the areas of identity theft and other forms of financial cybercrime. The cost of cybercrime – already in the billions of dollars – rises each year.

But cyber threats also come from nation states and other actors who seek to exploit information to gain an advantage over the United States. They might seek an economic advantage, or to gain insight into our military or foreign policy. Denial of service attacks disrupt business and undermine confidence.

Terrorists and extremist groups today use the power of the Internet, especially social media, to spread their messages of hate and intolerance, and to recruit new members, often targeting vulnerable young people. The global reach of cyberspace and the complexity of its networks provide bad actors ample places to hide, safe from the reach of international law.

To meet these threats, our national leaders, military leaders, policy makers and law enforcement personnel must understand who our adversaries are, where they are, and what their capabilities, plans and intentions are. At the same time, we must ensure that we protect our own national security information from those who would do us harm. These are the capabilities that the National Security Agency provides to our nation, to our leaders and to our fellow Americans – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.