updated 03:20 pm EDT, Sat October 20, 2012
Remarks given at business meeting in Norfolk, VA
Just a week after a major policy speech on Internet security in front of a New York business group, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that cyberspace is the battlefield of the future, with organized groups of attackers assaulting financial institutions and developing the power to assail US power grids and government systems.
"We confront a whole new threat of warfare in (cyberspace). This is an area we've got to pay close attention to. This is the battlefront of the future," he told a business group in US Navy-centric Norfolk, VA.
Being careful to not name any specific countries, Panetta told the group that "there are attacks going on in this country, cyber attacks, on financial institutions, on banks." He also noted that Washington DC and other military organizations face hundreds of thousands of probes and attacks per day.
Northeastern University Assistant Professor William Robertson said in an interview that "I don't think it's hyperbole. These kinds of attacks that he's talking about have actually been going on for quite some time. And they've been increasing in intensity lately."
Robertson also said that identifying the source of a cyber attack remains difficult given the complex nature of Internet routing and other technological measures that miscreants put into place. "Identity and attribution on the Internet are not very robust. If you look at kind of the underlying protocols that kind of power the Internet ... there's no real strong mechanism for identifying where something is coming from," he said.