US intelligence agencies have placed cyber attacks from foreign governments and criminals at the top of their list of threats to the country. Online assaults would increasingly undermine US economic competitiveness and national security, said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. A report issued by his office said Russia’s military was setting up a cyber command to carry out attacks. The report also describes China, Iran and North Korea as leading threats. In testimony to a congressional committee on Thursday, Mr Clapper said he no longer believed the US faced ‘cyber Armageddon’.

The idea that major infrastructure such as financial networks or power grids could be disabled by hackers now looked less probable, he said.

However he warned: ‘We foresee an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyber attacks from a variety of sources over time, which will impose cumulative costs on US economic competitiveness and national security.’ Mr Clapper highlighted the case of Russia, which he said posed the greatest a cyber risk to US interests.

He said that threat from the Russian government was ‘more severe’ than previously realised. He also said profit-minded criminals and ideologically driven hackers were also increasingly active.