Panetta Warns of 'Cyber Pearl Harbor'
He urges Congress to pass cybersecurity bill
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2012 12:48 AM CDT
Updated Oct 12, 2012 7:41 AM CDT
Cybersecurity in the US is at a "pre-9/11 moment," Panetta says.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

(Newser) – America needs to beef up its defense or face a "cyber Pearl Harbor" attack from foreign hackers capable of dismantling the nation's infrastructure, Leon Panetta warns. Nations like Iran and China or militant groups could "gain control of critical switches," the defense secretary said in a speech to business leaders, the New York Times reports. "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."

Panetta, stressing that the Pentagon is not interested in bugging people's computers or reading their email, urged Congress to pass new cybersecurity measures. As National Defense Magazine notes, he even busted out a 9/11 comparison: "A cyber attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremist groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack of 9/11." Republicans are worried that cybersecurity measures will be too much of a burden for businesses, and Panetta is trying to increase the pressure, notes the Times.