U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano warned that a major cyber attack is a looming threat, and could have a similar impact as 2012's Superstorm Sandy, which knocked out electricity in a large area of the Northeast. Napolitano issued the warning on Thursday, stating that a "cyber 9/11" could happen "imminently", and that critical infrastructure such as electricity, water, and gas was very vulnerable to a strike.
Speaking at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington and referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks, Napolitano said:
'We shouldn't wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world. There are things we can and should be doing right now that, if not prevent, would mitigate the extent of damage."
Napolitano is charged with running the Homeland Security Department that was created in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and is responsible for preventing another such event. She has urged Congress to pass legislation governing cyber security so that the government can share information with the private sector to prevent an attack on infrastructure, which is mostly privately owned.
Last year, a cyber security bill failed in Congress after it was opposed by business and privacy groups. This measure would have increased information sharing between private businesses that control power grids or water treatment plants. Business groups, however, said that the measure was government overreach and privacy groups feared that it could lead to Internet eavesdropping.
There is new cyber legislation being considered, but it is not clear whether it will get through Congress.