10 Reasons to Fear a 'Cyber Pearl Harbor'
An attack on a computer network shuts down a power plant, plunging New York City into darkness. A control tower at an airport is suddenly overwhelmed with false signals from nonexistent airplanes.
Could a terrorist group or foreign country mount a cyberattack that causes this sort of crisis? Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta thinks so.
In October 2012, Panetta warned a group of business executives about a "cyber Pearl Harbor"— a massive cyberattack upon the United States that would compromise critical pieces of infrastructure.
The term wasn't Panetta's invention. Experts have been using "cyber Pearl Harbor" ever since it became clear in the mid-1990s that such attacks were possible.
More recent events have erased all doubt. The Stuxnet worm of 2010 demonstrated that a piece of malware can do real harm to an industrial system, even one not connected to the Internet.
Stuxnet, which was likely created by the U.S. or Israel, altered the rate of spin of uranium centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear facility, spinning them faster until they broke. At the same time, it fed false information to the facility operators, reporting that everything was functioning normally.