Washington: United States faces an imminent threat of a "cyber Pearl Harbour" attack, which could cause massive physical destruction and loss of life, paralyse and shock the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has said.
Identifying the advancing cyber capabilities of Russia and China and a similar attempt by Iran to use cyberspace to its advantage; besides the large number of non-state actors, Panetta in a major policy speech on cyberspace announced that the United States is putting in place to stop cyber-attacks dead in their tracks.
"An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or 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," Panetta said yesterday in his speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on the Hudson River in New York.
"The most destructive scenarios involve cyber actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at once, in combination with a physical attack on our country. Attackers could also seek to disable or degrade critical military systems and communications networks," he said.
"The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be "cyber Pearl Harbor": an attack that would cause physical destruction and loss of life, paralyze and shock the nation, and create a profound new sense of vulnerability," Panetta said as he referred to the some of the recent cyber-attacks on not only US facilities, but also that of other countries.
"These attacks mark a significant escalation of the cyber threat. And they have renewed concerns about still more destructive scenarios that could unfold. For example, we know that foreign cyber actors are probing America`s critical infrastructure networks," he said.
"They are targeting the computer control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants, and those that guide transportation throughout the country. We know of specific instances where intruders have successfully gained access to these control systems.
"We also know they are seeking to create advanced tools to attack these systems and cause panic, destruction, and even the loss of life," Panetta said.
As such to address such a threat, Panetta said the Department of Defense is developing new capabilities; putting in place the policies and organisations we need to execute US mission, and building more effective cooperation with industry and international partners.
The Department of Defense, he said, is investing more than USD 3 billion annually in cyber security to retain cutting edge capabilities in this field.
"We are recruiting, training, and retaining the best and brightest in order to stay ahead of other nations. It`s no secret that Russia and China have advanced cyber capabilities. Iran has also undertaken a concerted effort to use cyberspace to its advantage," he said.
"China is rapidly growing its cyber capabilities.
In my visit to Beijing, I underscored the need to increase communication and transparency so that we can avoid misunderstanding or miscalculation in cyberspace.
That is in the interest of the United States, and it is in the interest of China," he said.
"Ultimately, no one has a greater interest in cyber security than the businesses that depend on a safe, secure, and resilient global digital infrastructure particularly those who operate the critical networks we must help defend," Panetta said.
Earlier in the day, Panetta told editors and reporters at The New York Times in New York that in advancing its cyber capabilities, the US is not interested in looking at e-mail, at information in computers.
"I`m not interested in violating rights or liberties of people.
But if there is a code, if there`s a worm that`s being inserted, we need to know when that`s happening," he said, according to the daily.