The United States needs to step up its offensive cyber capabilities, a top security official said on Thursday, warning that looming defense budget cuts could hurt efforts to bolster the nation's cyber military facilities and make the country more vulnerable.
Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that too many adversaries can attack the United States without fear of retaliation.
"We focus primarily on the defensive, but I think now we're at a tipping point where we not only need to continue to build on the defensive capability, but we've also got to broaden our capabilities to provide policymakers and operational commanders with a broader range of options," Rogers said.
Rogers did not elaborate on what specific capabilities the United States needs.
For years, U.S. officials have said that cyberattacks from another country can constitute an act of war and that they reserve the right to respond, but they have generally remained tight-lipped about offensive cyber-capabilities.
The issue gained prominence after the Obama administration last year blamed North Korea for a cyberattack on Sony Pictures.
Defense officials have also argued that mandated budget cuts known as sequestration would slow the process of building a stronger cyber force. Rogers pushed that argument again on Thursday.
A 2011 law directed the Pentagon to cut nearly a trillion dollars from its projected spending over a decade, but the department's budget for the 2016 fiscal year is asking for a $35 billion boost above federal spending caps.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the Sony attacks exposed "serious flaws in the Obama administration's cyber strategy, and that lack of a strong deterrent strategy increases the resolve of the nation's cyber enemies."
"I am concerned that a strategy too heavily weighted towards defense is a losing strategy. Moreover, at the current levels of investment, we are at great risk of having a hollow cyber force," McCain said.