Napolitano: Sandy Shows What Cyber Attack on Utilities Could Look Like

Thursday, 01 Nov 2012 09:32 AM

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The ravages of super-storm Sandy on the Northeast’s infrastructure gives an idea of what a cyber attack on our utilities could cause, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday.

“If you think a control-system attack that takes down a utility even for a few hours is not serious, just look at what is happening now that Mother Nature has taken out those utilities,” she said at a cyber security conference, Politico reports. The damage can be “life threatening.”

Napolitano’s remarks continue the recent drumbeat of warnings from the Obama administration about the dangers of cyber warfare.

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In a speech earlier this month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put the risks in nearly apocalyptic terms, saying there’s a possibility of a “cyber Pearl Harbor that would cause physical destruction and loss of life, paralyze and shock the nation, and create a profound new sense of vulnerability.”

Terrorist-technology experts could bring down the power and transportations systems, financial networks, and the government itself, he said. Cyber attacks might even accompany a physical attack on the United States.

The Senate plans to take up legislation on protection against digital attacks in December. But proponents are doubtful about the chances for passing a bill.

An executive order is possible. If President Barack Obama is re-elected, “I think he will have to consider an executive order that covers many of the areas legislation would cover, but it’s not a complete substitute for legislation,” Napolitano said. “There are some things only legislation can provide.”

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