While speaking at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, Panetta said how such an attack could unfold against the USA and reacted to the rising aggressiveness and technological developments being made by the USA's adversaries like China, Russia, Iran and several militant groups.
A worried Panetta said the anti-US groups could use cyber tools to derail trains loaded with lethal chemicals, contaminate the water supply in major cities or shut down power grids across the nation. Defence officials said Panetta's words were not without any basis and he was responding to the recent cyber attacks carried out against large American financial institutions. He also cited the attack on Saudi Aramco, a state oil company, which affected over 30,000 computers and left them useless.
Pentagon sources believed that Panetta was also pushing for legislation for it would require new standards at important private-sector infrastructure facilities, where a computer breach could result in huge damages and casualties.
In August, a Republican group blocked a cybersecurity bill, which was one of the top national security priorities for the administration. The group, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, supported the US Chamber of Commerce and said that it would be burdensome for corporate bodies.
Panetta argued that the new legislation would not be costly for the businessmen. He said cybersecurity was important for the protection of the American democracy and said with the legislation getting stalled, President Barack Obama was considering the option of issuing an executive order that would lead to information-sharing on the issue of cybersecurity between the government and the private industry.
Panette, however, said that it was only a temporary measure and otherwise reluctant private companies would co-operate only if asked by the law.