Panetta talks tough on plans to counter cyber attacks

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has revealed some details of U.S. plans to deal with a massive cyber attack. Those plans include launching a possible cyber offensive in what some analysts say is a message to Iran.

With thousands of enemies probing the Pentagon’s systems millions of times a day, the secretary of defense has spoken about the threat of a massive cyber attack before. But his warnings late last week in New York have been the strongest yet.

“This is a pre-9/11 moment. The attackers are plotting,” said Panetta.

Panetta said it is no secret that Russia and China have advanced cyber capabilities, and he said Iran has also undertaken concerted efforts to use cyberspace to its advantage.

U.S. officials have blamed Iran for a massive cyberattack two months ago on systems at the Saudi company Aramco and a natural gas company in Qatar. The assault, known as Shamoon, infected 30,000 computers.

In his remarks Thursday, Panetta did not link Iran to the Shamoon attacks, which he said mark a significant escalation of the cyber threat and even more destructive scenarios that could unfold. Among these: train derailments, the shutdown of power grids, and the contamination of water supplies.

He said the United States has taken steps to be ready for a strike on U.S. installations. He said the Pentagon would in some instances not wait for an attack before it launches an offensive.

“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,” said Panetta.

Panetta said the U.S. military has pumped $3 billion into cyber security efforts that include the recruitment of an army of cyber-warriors to fight off attacks.

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