Panetta warns of "cyber-Pearl Harbor"

U.S. could be vulnerable to hackers dismantling major infrastructure

Published October 12, 2012 3:00PM (EDT)

The U.S. could possibly face a "cyber-Pearl Harbor," according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Speaking at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York on Thursday, Panetta warned that the country was vulnerable to serious cyber-attacks, which could dismantle major aspects of U.S. infrastructure.

Panetta said (via The New York Times):

An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. 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.

According to the Times, the defense secretary said he was reacting to increasing aggressiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups. He warned that the most dire scenario possible would involve cyber-attacks on infrastructure coordinated with a physical attack.

Panetta urged the implementation of new legislation, which would promote information sharing on cyber-security between government and private industry. The Times reported that President Obama was considering an executive order to this effect.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Cyber-attack Cyber-defense Cyber-security Defense Secretary Hacking Leon Panetta