Panetta Delivers Sharp Warning about Cyber Attacks

SecDef: 'Cyber is now at a point where the technology is there to cripple a country'

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Wednesday singled out cyber attacks as a critical defense area, calling the attacks a "great" and "growing" threat to the economy and infrastructure, one that could "paralyze the country."

"We are literally the target of thousands of cyber attacks every day — every day," Panetta said in remarks at Georgetown University. "Thousands of cyber attacks that are striking at the private sector, strike at Silicon Valley, strike at other institutions within our society, strike at our government, strike at the Defense Department and our intelligence agencies."

"Cyber is now at a point where the technology is there to cripple a country," he continued, "to take down our power grid system, to take down our government systems, take down our financial systems, and literally paralyze the country. That is a reality."

There have been a series of cyber attacks made public in recent weeks, including attacks on a number of major U.S. news organizations, the Department of Energy, and on the social media site Twitter.

The Pentagon announced in January a plan to increase the Defense Department's cyber unit by more than 4,000 people.