Washington, Oct. 12: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has warned that the country is facing the possibility of a ‘cyber-Pearl Harbor’ and is increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers, who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial networks and government.
In a speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, Panetta painted a dire picture of how such an attack on the United States might unfold.
Panetta said he was reacting to increasing aggressiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.
“An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals,” Panetta said.
“They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country,” the New York Times quoted Panetta, as saying.
According to the report, defense officials insisted that Panetta’s words were not hyperbole, and that he was responding to a recent wave of cyberattacks on large American financial institutions.
He also cited an attack in August on the state oil company Saudi Aramco, which infected and made useless more than 30,000 computers.
Pentagon officials, however, acknowledged that Panetta was also pushing for legislation on Capitol Hill.
That legislation would require new standards at critical private-sector infrastructure facilities, like power plants, water treatment facilities and gas pipelines, where a computer breach could cause significant casualties or economic damage, the report said.
The most destructive possibilities, Panetta said, involve “cyber-actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at once, in combination with a physical attack on our country.”
He described the collective result as a “cyber-Pearl Harbor that would cause physical destruction and loss of life, paralyze and shock the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability.” (ANI)