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Ex-Mossad director says cyber attacks pose biggest threat to free world

The former head of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, warned in a recent interview that the low cost and relative ease for states and non-state actors to conduct cyberattacks pose among the gravest security threats in the world.

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Tamir Pardo, who spent more than three decades in the intelligence service before being tapped to lead it from 2011 to 2016, also told Intelligence Matters host and CBS News senior national security contributor Michael Morell that Washington may be ill-prepared to respond to a large-scale cyber attack on infrastructure or other critical targets. 

"I believe [cyber] is the biggest threat that the free world, our planet, is dealing with these days," Pardo said, calling cyber attacks a "soft and silent nuclear weapon." Since leaving the Mossad, Pardo has started his own cyber security company, XM Cyber.

With "let's say, 1%" of the cost of a fighter jet, Pardo argued, "you can create a mess around the world." And while states can be and sometimes are the perpetrators of cyber attacks, they're far from being the only culprits.

"Every kid on this planet can be a threat," he told Morell. "You're going to find it within states. You're going to find it within criminal gangs. You're going to find it, let's say, in order to get some [economic gains]."

Faith that governments -- including in the U.S. -- can respond to attacks in a timely and effective way may also be misplaced, Pardo said.

"I just say – God forbid – that on a hot summer day, [after a] cyber attack, pressure [in] the water pipelines in California will drop to zero," he said. "Thinking that the federal government will assist, solve the problem -- it's not even a dream."

The Trump administration introduced a national cyber strategy last September that identified priorities for cyber defense, including the protection of U.S. "networks, systems, functions and data" and securing critical infrastructure.

For much more from Michael Morell's conversation with Tamir Pardo, including highlights from his career and his assessment of regional dynamics involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the possibility of dialogue with the Palestinians, you can read the transcript here and subscribe to Intelligence Matters here.

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