WASHINGTON – Attacks on U.S. banks may have officially reached cyberwar status, as the U.S. Defense Secretary is issuing a warning.

The recent string of cyber attacks on some of the largest U.S. banks may foreshadow more destructive digital assaults on the nation’s critical infrastructure to come, according to some analysts.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says that while financial institutions have weathered cyber attacks before, the slowdowns that have struck banks recently are notable for their velocity.

“In recent weeks, as many of you know, some large U.S. financial institutions were hit by so-called distributed denial of service attacks,” Panetta told the Business Executives for National Security. “These attacks delayed or disrupted services on customer websites. While this kind of tactic isn’t new, the scale and speed with which it happened was unprecedented.”

Panetta said a cyber attack in August against Saudi Arabia’s state oil company that destroyed more than 30,000 computers may be the worst cyber attack on a business so far and shows the types of events that preoccupy the nation’s defenders.

“The most destructive scenarios involve cyber actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack on our country,” Panetta added in a story reported by American Banker, an affiliate of Credit Union Journal. “The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor; an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life.”

The defense secretary is urging Congress to take up a measure that would give the government new ways to protect power plants, transportation systems and other critical infrastructure from cyber attacks after 46 senators voted to block it in August. Panetta said the Obama administration may issue an executive order to increase the sharing of information about threats among the government and private industry, although he added the order would not substitute for comprehensive cyber security legislation.

At least one bank CEO is echoing the defense secretary’s remarks. Cybercrime is “A big deal, it’s going to get worse,” JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. “We’ve got these major security centers and we work with the governments around the world to protect ourselves.”

Dimon said he is in favor of cyber security law that would strengthen current safeguards, provided the government works collaboratively with business to implement it. “The CIA, the NSA, the Department of Defense, they actually know when these attacks are at the border sometimes,” said Dimon. “We do not.”


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