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Cyber Threats Growing; U.S. Will Respond

An American government cyber security agent looks at code at a cyber defense lab in Idaho

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that cyber space is becoming “a battlefield of the future".

In an address in New York City on cyber security, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that cyber space is becoming “a battlefield of the future where adversaries can seek to do harm to our country, to our economy, and to our citizens. . . .A cyber attack perpetrated by nation states and violent extremists groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11.”

Cyber Threats Growing; U.S. Will Respond
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“We know that foreign cyber actors are probing America’s critical infrastructure networks,” said Mr. Panetta. “They are targeting the computer control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants and those that guide transportation throughout this country.” The collective result of successful attacks on these networks “could be a cyber Pearl Harbor.”

Mr. Panetta noted that China and Russia “have advanced cyber capabilities” and that “Iran has also undertaken a concerted effort to use cyberspace to its advantage.”

He warned that if “a crippling cyber attack were launched against our nation, the American people must be protected.” He stated that if the U.S. president orders a response, “the Defense Department must be ready to obey that order and to act.”

Mr. Panetta noted that over the past decade the Defense Department has developed the world’s finest counterterrorism force, and that “potential [cyber] aggressors should be aware that the United States has the capacity to locate them and to hold them accountable for their actions that may try to harm America.”

Mr. Panetta warned, however, that improved defenses alone will not succeed in preventing a cyber attack. “If we detect an imminent threat of attack that will cause significant, physical destruction in the United States or kill American citizens, we need to have the option to take action against those who would attack us to defend this nation when directed by the President. For these kinds of scenarios, the [Defense] Department has developed that capability to conduct effective operations to counter threats to our national interests in cyber space.”

“We will only do so to defend our nation, to defend our interests, to defend our allies, and we will only do so in a manner that is consistent with our policy principles and legal frameworks,” said Defense Secretary Panetta. Defending our interests and values is “our most important mission on land, at sea…in space and yes, in cyberspace. This is not just a responsibility, it is a duty that we owe to our children and their children in the future.”