Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is warning that this U.S. faces the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation's power grid, transportation system, financial networks, and government, the New York Times reports. In a speech yesterday, Panetta painted a dire picture of how such an attack might unfold. He cited 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 use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches,” Panetta said. “They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.” Defense officials insisted that Panetta was not exaggerating and and that he was responding to a recent wave of cyberattacks on large American financial institutions. He is pushing for legislation in Congress that would require new standards at critical private-sector infrastructure facilities where a computer breach could cause significant casualties or economic damage.