The U.S. is facing a dramatically increasing threat from cyber attacks and a future attack on the country's critical infrastructure could have an effect similar to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001, said the U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Speaking at a meeting of the Business Executives for National Security (BENS) in New York, Leon Panetta called the Internet "the battlefield of the future" and spelled out what he believes the Department of Defense's role should be in cyber space.
The military's role in securing the domestic Internet and working against attacks on commercial institutions has been controversial, although Panetta sought to get the assembled business leaders on his side by warning them of the danger a large-scale attack could have on their companies.
"A cyber attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremist groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11," he said in the televised speech. "Such a destructive cyber terrorist attack could virtually paralyze the nation...and be equivalent to a "cyber Pearl Harbor."
Panetta first addressed one of the biggest issues surrounding increased military involvement with the Internet: the possibility that the Department of Defense would monitor personal e-mail and communications between U.S. citizens.
"That it not our goal, that is not our job, that is not our mission," he said. "Our mission is to defend the nation. We defend. We defer. And if called upon, we take decisive action to protect our citizens. In the past we have done so through operations on land and at sea, in the sky and in space. In this century, the United States military must help defend the nation in cyber space as well."
To do this, Panetta said the Department of Defense in investing more than $3 billion per year in developing new capabilities to fight cyber attacks and said the U.S. has the capability to go on the offensive when required.
Panetta closed with a call to his audience to share the responsibility to protect cyber space.
"Ultimately, no one has a greater interest in cyber security than the business that depend on a safe, secure, and resilient global digital infrastructure," he said. "To defend those networks more effectively, we must share information between the government and private sector."
"We've made real progress in sharing information with the private sector, but very frankly, we need Congress to act to ensure that this sharing is timely and comprehensive. Companies should be able to share specific threat information with the government without the prospect of lawsuits hanging over their head. And a key principle must be to protect the fundamental liberties and privacy in cyber space that we are all duty bound to uphold." (Infoworld.com)