Eric Toler, Georgia Cyber Center

Georgia Cyber Center Executive Director Eric Toler spoke at the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce's monthly breakfast forum Friday.

A foreign government could launch a cyber-based attack on the U.S.'s critical infrastructure, targeting and interfering with the electrical power grid, for example, Georgia Cyber Center Executive Director Eric Toler warned Friday.

And the capabilities needed to do so already exist, according to Toler, who spoke with the Aiken Standard after presenting at the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce's monthly breakfast forum.

The executive director, an intel officer by trade, pointed to Iran and North Korea, but also mentioned China and Russia as "primary" adversaries.

"We've been very fortunate not to have that type of attack yet, but I think it's only a matter of time," said Toler, who has previously served in key U.S. Army Cyber Command and National Security Agency positions.

He described the four countries – one of which recently tested short-range missiles, and another of which disrupted the 2016 presidential election – as among the "evil empires" trying to greatly influence or otherwise damage the U.S.

Cyber threats over the past decade, Toler said, have largely comprised the theft of intellectual property, and not just in the military or national defense sectors.

"I think we stopped counting several years ago when we reached over $1 trillion in intellectual property loss, which is significant," Toler said.

Now, it's about revenue, he explained, citing ransomware attacks that have plagued governments and businesses alike.

"It takes a team to defeat this adversary," Toler said. "Because when you look at a China or a Russia, they don't have the separation of government and academia and private industry. It's all one thing. They control it, so they can leverage that as they see fit."

The Georgia Cyber Center represents a multimillion-dollar investment in cybersecurity just across the Savannah River. According to Toler, the public-private collaboration has a common mission: cyber operations. 

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin