The United States is facing a possible “cyber Pearl Harbor” carried out by computer hackers that could result in infrastructure damage and loss of life, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
Calling the Internet a “battlefield of the future” where America’s enemies “can seek to do harm to our country, to our economy, and to our citizens,” Panetta said in a speech Thursday evening that the US Congress must pass cyber security legislation in order to protection the nation.
“Without it, we are and we will be vulnerable,” Panetta said in a speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on the Hudson River in New York City.
Panetta singled out Russia and China as nations with “advanced cyber capabilities” and said Iran is also undertaking efforts to use cyber space to its advantage.
“As director of the CIA and now Secretary of Defense, I have understood that cyber attacks are every bit as real as the more well-known threats like terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferation and the turmoil that we see in the Middle East,” Panetta said. “And the cyber threats facing this country are growing.”
Under the most destructive scenarios, Panetta said, the United States could face several simultaneous cyber attacks that could damage critical infrastructure and important military systems and communications networks.
“The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor; an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life,” Panetta said. “In fact, it would paralyze and shock the nation and create a new, profound sense of vulnerability.”