“Cyber Pearl Harbor”? Just How Devastating Could an Attack be?

(Ping! Zine Web Tech Magazine) – Without a doubt, the issue of cybersecurity has increasingly caught the attention of not only the U.S. government, but numerous companies who seek to safegaurd critical data. It’s also a means of agression and a tactic those opposed to particular governments could use to wage warfare.

The issue itself was recently highlighted in a speech from U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who spoke at an event in New York hosted by the Business Executives for National Security. While emphasizing the U.S. Congress’s need to act on legislation used to protect critical data, the Defense Secretary warned of a looming “Cyber Pearl Harbor” that’s impact could be just as devastating as the terrorist attack on 9/11.

Panetta pointed towards a situation in which hackers could manipulate data to cause physical terrorist attacks.

“An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals,” the Secretary stated. He also said other situations could see hackers contaminating water supplies and shutting down major electric grids.

Panetta’s comments compliment those made by U.S. President Barack Obama who discussed a similar scenario in a Wall Street Journal editorial earlier this year.

So how are hackers currently using tactics to hit entities? The Secretary discussed the now infamous ‘Shamoon’ virus, something he said relied on a “self-execute” capability to attack an oil company based in Saudi Arabia.

“This routine replaced crucial system files with an image of a burning U.S. flag. It also put additional ‘garbage’ data that overwrote all the real data on the machine. The more than 30,000 computers it infected were rendered useless, and had to be replaced,” Panetta said of the event.

The Secretary also signaled that an executive order could be made if Congress failed to act on cyber issues.