Panetta: Sense of Urgency Needed to Defend Against Cyber Attacks

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2012 — The increas­ing threat of cyber attacks against the nation’s com­put­er net­works requires a com­men­su­rate growth in resources ded­i­cat­ed to pro­tect­ing them, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta told Con­gress today.

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“I think there has to be a greater sense of urgency with regards to the cyber poten­tial, not only now but in the future,” Panet­ta told the Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee on defense. “Obvi­ous­ly it’s a rapid­ly devel­op­ing area.”

Ene­mies launch hun­dreds of thou­sands of attacks every day on U.S. com­put­er net­works, gov­ern­ment and non-gov­ern­ment alike. “I’m very con­cerned at the poten­tial in cyber to be able to crip­ple our pow­er grid, to be able to crip­ple our gov­ern­ment sys­tems, to be able to crip­ple our finan­cial sys­tems,” Panet­ta said. “It would vir­tu­al­ly par­a­lyze this coun­try. And as far as I’m con­cerned, that rep­re­sents the poten­tial for anoth­er Pearl Har­bor … using cyber.”

Tes­ti­fy­ing along­side Panet­ta, Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the nature of cyber attacks has changed quick­ly. A few years ago, he said, hack­ers launched denial of ser­vice attacks on com­put­er sys­tems. Today, sophis­ti­cat­ed users, crim­i­nal groups and even nations par­tic­i­pate in intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty and tech­nol­o­gy theft and have pro­gressed to destruc­tive cyber attacks. “I can’t over­state my per­son­al sense of urgency about that,” he said.

Panet­ta feels “very good” about DOD’s abil­i­ty to defend its com­put­er sys­tems, but he is con­cerned about the secu­ri­ty of non-gov­ern­men­tal sys­tems. “I think that’s the area where we have to deal with the addi­tion­al author­i­ties,” he said.

Dempsey stressed that he, too, sup­ports leg­is­la­tion that encour­ages infor­ma­tion shar­ing with civil­ian sys­tems.

The chair­man said the depart­ment has the author­i­ty it needs in the cyber world, but must devel­op rules of engage­ment that work at net­work speed.

“This is not some­thing where we can afford to … con­vene a study after some­one has knocked out the East Coast pow­er grid,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)