(WASHINGTON) -- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday that a major computer attack against critical U.S. infrastructure could result in a loss of life and massive economic damages.
“The network intrusion that shuts down the nation’s critical infrastructure … could cause loss of life but also a huge economic loss,” Napolitano said at a cybersecurity event sponsored by the Washington Post. “We’ve seen attempts on Wall Street, transportation systems, things of those sorts.”
Cybersecurity experts have long warned that hackers could target electrical grids and power plants, which could affect hospitals and water treatment plants.
Napolitano added that DHS offices had been probed in computer intrusions by hackers attempting to infiltrate the department’s systems. She declined, however, to comment on the details of the intrusions or specify if the intrusions had targeted her office.
Napolitano discussed a wide range of computer security issues at the event and urged Congress to push forward with cybersecurity legislation that the White House proposed in May. Napolitano said she hoped the legislation could gain strong bipartisan support.
“Cyber attacks are increasing in frequency, in complexity and in consequence,” Napolitano said. “In [fiscal year] 2011 alone, our U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, CERT, responded to more than 100,000 incident reports and released more than 5,000 actionable cybersecurity alerts and information products.”
Although the DHS secretary declined to address specific instances, there have been a slew of high-profile hacking intrusions in the past two years:
- The FBI and U.S. Secret Service are investigating intrusions into computer systems run by NASDAQ-OMX, the parent company of the NASDAQ stock exchange, which were compromised last year.
- Earlier this year RSA, the security division of the EMC Corp., suffered a computer intrusion that resulted in a breach of its firm’s intellectual property, Secure ID, which provides encrypted authentication services.
- During 2009, groups in China were behind a highly sophisticated hacking of Google and more than 30 other companies that went undetected until January 2010.
“We are in a constant state of seeing activity against critical infrastructure,” said Greg Schaffer, DHS assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications, who also spoke at Thursday’s event.
U.S. officials believe that China had been behind many of the infiltrations; members of Congress have recently mentioned this, but diplomatic and security officials are more reluctant to attribute the infiltrations to China.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio