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Panetta: 'Foreign Cyber-Actors Are Probing America's Critical Infrastructure'

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta delivered a policy speech that he said was a "clarion call" for Americans to take cyber security seriously. Attacks that can cripple a country, he said, are no longer theoretical.

According to The Washington Post, Panetta acknowledged an attack by the Shamoon virus for the first time in his speech on Thursday. He said the malware targeted Aramco, the Saudi Arabian state oil company, and rendered more than 30,000 computers "permanently inoperable."

The Post adds:

"Such attacks have 'renewed concerns about still more destructive scenarios that could unfold' against the United States, he said in an address to business executives in New York. He asked them to 'imagine the impact an attack like this would have on your company.'

Panetta's remarks on the Middle East incidents were the first from any administration official acknowledging them. In the attack on Aramco, the virus replaced crucial system files with an image of a burning U.S. flag, he said. It also overwrote the files with 'garbage' data, he said."

In an interview with Time about the speech, Panetta said Americans needed to "wake up to the growing threat."

"The whole point of this is that we simply don't just sit back and wait for a goddamn crisis to happen," Panetta told Time. "In this country we tend to do that, and that's a concern."

He added that some countries are developing the kind of capabilities that could "virtually paralyze a country."

In his piece for Morning Edition, NPR's Larry Abramson reported that Panetta said the Pentagon is deciding on how and when to respond to these attacks. Panetta also called on Congress to pass "higher computer security standards for industry." If Congress doesn't do it, Panetta said, President Obama should use an executive order to accomplish it.

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