CIA Chief: Cyberattack Could Be Next Pearl Harbor

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

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In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Central Intelligence Agency chief Leon Panetta warned Congress that the U.S. could suffer a cyber-based attack with catastrophic results, on par with the attacks against Pearl Harbor.

The statements came during hearings on Panetta's nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense.

“The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems,” Panetta said.

Panetta covered topics ranging from continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan to recent military actions in Libya, but particularly emphasized the growing threat to national security posed by a potential cyber-offensive.

“This is a real possibility in today’s world. As a result, I think we have to aggressively be able to counter that. It is going to take both defensive measures as well as aggressive measures to deal with it," Panetta explained.

Amid growing concerns over state-sponsored attacks reportedly emanating from China, Iran, Russia and other nations, western governments have begun to seriously step-up the cyber offensive rhetoric in recent months, with the U.K issuing some of the boldest assertions.

Recently, the British government openly suggested that the U.K is gearing up to bolster computer network defenses by initiating the development of new cyber offensive tools for their arsenal, according to a report in ITProUK.

The acknowledgement came on the heels of reports about a soon to be finalized Pentagon cyber strategy which will outline the circumstances in which an attack against U.S. computer networks could be considered an act of war, and potentially elicit an armed military response.

News of the Pentagon strategy itself closely follows the release of an Obama administration report on international cyber security coordination which provides the strongest indications to date that cyber attacks against a NATO member nation could invoke retaliatory actions under the treaty's mutual defense doctrine.

Western governments are not the only ones ready to ante-up in the high stakes game of cyber security. Chinese government officials recently acknowledged the existence of a military unit dedicated to cyber warfare activity, according to intelligence sources.

China has reportedly recruited thousands of hackers for a cyber force tasked with infiltrating a multitude of computers to establish a large botnet which can be utilized to conduct denial of service (DoS) campaigns to disrupt targeted websites as well as conducting cyber espionage activity to pilfer sensitive information.

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