The presidential candidates agree the risk of a devastating “cyber-Pearl Harbor” is very real but their solutions to address the threat are far apart. That makes this hot topic ripe for questions in the upcoming debates.
The chasm separating the candidates on cyber-security is ideological, much as their differences on other issues like the economy. President Barack Obama favors a big-government approach while Gov. Mitt Romney, if he is like most congressional Republicans, opposes giving Washington more leverage over the private sector.
This issue is ripe for the upcoming presidential debates because cyber-security was in the news last week. The secretary of defense gave a sobering speech on the escalating cyber threat and the press reported President Obama may soon release a cyber-security executive order bypassing the Senate’s legislative logjam on the issue.
Last Thursday Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued what he said is a “clarion call” in a speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York. Americans must wake up to the likelihood of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and our increasing vulnerability to foreign hackers plotting attacks on the nation’s critical infrastructure, warned Panetta.
Hackers “could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals … contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid,” Panetta said. The secretary said his warning comes on the heels of a recent wave of cyber-attacks on large American financial institutions and the August 2012 assault on the Saudi Arabian State Oil Company Aramco, which destroyed 30,000 computers and “replaced crucial systems files with an image of a burning U.S. flag.”
Panetta said we must not wait for the “crisis to happen” which “we tend to do.” He warned “We are now in a world in which countries are developing the capability to engage in the kind of attacks that can virtually paralyze a country.” Russia, China and Iran are developing the greatest capabilities, according to the former CIA director.
The secretary said “potential aggressors” are probing America for weaknesses and beginning to “exploit transportation systems, power systems, and energy ystems.” “Our concern is that in doing that kind of exploration, they’re doing it for the purposes of determining how they could attack,” Panetta surmised.
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