'Cyber 9/11 imminent' warns DHS chief; suggests CISPA-like laws

Summary:Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano suggested Congress should pass legislation similar to CISPA, in order to avoid a calamitous end to American civilization.

A "cyber 9/11" that could hit critical US national infrastructure--including water, electricity, and gas networks--could happen "imminently," the US government's cybersecurity chief has warned.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that such networks were vulnerable to hackers and cyberattacks in a speech today at the Wilson Center, Washington, a think tank focused on international affairs and development.

And this is coming from someone who doesn't even use email .

nuke
Boom! Goodbye to Wisconsin, worries the Homeland Security chief in regard to hackers taking over gas pipelines and other critical networks. (Credit: World in Conflict/Ubisoft)

First reported by Reuters, Napolitano was quoted as saying: "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."

She also urged Congress to pass legislation governing areas of cybersecurity so that the US government could share information with the private sector, which may help prevent cyberattacks on infrastructure critical to US national security.

Banks, for instance, have recently suffered a spate of cyber attacks, ranging from hacks and breaches to denial-of-service attacks that have crippled Web sites for hours, or even days at a time.

"Attacks are coming all the time. They are coming from different sources, they take different forms. But they are increasing in seriousness and sophistication," she added.

And she's probably right.

In fact, the chances are that the US alone is probably being hit by state-sponsored cyberattacks on a daily basis. There could even be one happening right now (as you read this, or at the time of writing). The US government doesn't want us to know just yet in case we worry about our banks or Internet connection, or even the gas supplies to our home and apartments.

We, the people, may not need to know the details, but the industries that provide these critical services to our everyday lives probably do need to know.

But you know where that's heading, right? Internet eavesdropping and restrictions on the free-flow of data around the United States and abroad--along with other seemingly possible Draconian measures that would put the "land of the free" back in the digital stone-age.

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Cast your mind back to April last year. The US House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), but it subsequently stalled at the hands of those in the US Senate. It likely won't pass Congress and land on the President's desk after the whole Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) episode caused much of the Web to go dark for a day in order to protest the measures.

And even then, it likely won't be signed by President Obama anyway, considering his opposition to the Bill .

Everyone, from Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Firefox-maker Mozilla, and Reporters Without Borders, opposed the Bill, and thankfully, they won--kind of--in spite of the strong support from AT&T, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Oracle, Symantec, Verizon, and so on. (Google never publicly stated its position on the draft CISPA Bill, though it opposed SOPA publicly on its main Google.com Web site.)

There are smidgens of draft Bills and suggested laws in the pipeline, but it will likely be beaten and surpassed by (yet another) executive order from President Obama. As the past has dictated, if Congress doesn't play ball, the President will just take it and sign it anyway.

The new executive order could see a voluntary system help protect some areas of critical national infrastructure through a carrot-and-stick approach of incentives.

"The clarion call is here, and we need to be dealing with this very urgently," Napolitano said.

Sure, just not at the expense of the freedoms, liberties, and democracy we have. And, try not to annoy the Internet too much, yeah?

Topics: Security

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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