Feature

Preparing for cyberwar

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cited recent attacks to warn the country it was at risk of a “cyber–Pearl Harbor.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. was at risk of a “cyber–Pearl Harbor,” and cited recent attacks widely attributed to Iran as signs of “a pre-9/11 moment.” A cyberattack this summer on the Saudi state oil company, which left more than 30,000 computers disabled and displaying an image of a burning American flag, was “probably the most devastating to ever hit the private sector,” he said. While Panetta did not explicitly name Iran as the culprit, other U.S. officials did. They said that Iran created a military “cybercorps” after the 2010 Stuxnet cyberattack on its nuclear enrichment efforts, and that Russia and China also have impressive cyberwar capabilities. Panetta warned that enemies of the U.S. could now “basically take down a power grid, take down a water system, take down a transportation system, take down a financial system.” 

So why haven’t we done anything about it? asked Gary Hart in HuffingtonPost.com. So far there’s no law requiring the private owners of critical U.S. infrastructure to meet basic cybersecurity standards. The proposed Cybersecurity Act would have forced them to, but it died in the Senate this summer because Republicans said it imposed “too many burdens on business.” President Obama should simply issue an executive order, said Bloomberg.com in an editorial. And while he’s at it, he should “make clear that the U.S. is prepared to pre-empt attacks and to respond with overwhelming force.”

The U.S. has already shown its readiness, said Peter Beaumont in The Guardian (U.K.). Stuxnet, which sent Iranian centrifuges spinning wildly, was widely reported to be a joint effort by the U.S. and Israel. Analysts think that the same crack team wrote Flame, a “massive and complex” cyberworm that inflicted huge data losses on Iran this year. The Pentagon is calling for more cyber-contractors, and says it is getting an “overwhelming response from industry and academia.”

This is a manufactured excuse to waste billions of dollars, said Douglas Birch in Foreign Policy. The apocalypse won’t come even if the electric grid is taken down—just look at how easily India handled the biggest blackout in world history earlier this year. The U.S. should “keep the degree of risk in perspective.” We know what happens when it doesn’t, said John Dvorak in PC Magazine.com. “Does anyone remember Y2K?”

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