United States Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is warning the public that a major cyberattack could be possible in the future, saying it’s “imminent”. As reported by Reuters, she believes that a major cyberattack could take place and that critical infrastructures such as water, gas, and electricity, is susceptible to a terrorist attack — “we shouldn’t wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world.”

Speaking at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, DC, the Secretary stated that the US shouldn’t wait until this attack occurred and urged that proactive measures be taken to ensure the security and protection of the public.

Napolitano isn’t the first government official, or even the first Obama administration official, to warn of a potential strike — outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also sounded an alarm, and believed that the country was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor”.

The United States is facing attacks from a variety of enemies, many that some may believe are from China, Iran, or other countries eager to steal state secrets or do harm to the country. Hewlett Packard released some statistics on the US Navy’s IT network and it was reported that it receives 110,000 cyber attacks every hour. The FBI has established a group to work 24/7 to investigate hackers and network attacks.

Last October, the White House became a target of cyber attacks with some pointing fingers at China. And that’s not all of them — the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that digital attacks on the federal government rose dramatically over the last 6 years — up 680 percent.

As we start a new term in office, Napolitano is once again urging Congress to pass legislation governing cyber security. She believes that by doing so, the government can share information with the private sector to help prevent an attack on infrastructure, which a majority is privately owned. Last August, a cybersecurity bill was blocked in Congress after facing opposition from the US Chamber of Commerce amidst concerns that it would be “too burdensome for corporations.”

Soon after, the Obama administration said that the President was thinking about an executive order to implement data being shared between the public and private sector. Panetta said at the time “we’re not interested in looking at e-mail, we’re not interested in looking at information in computers, I’m not interested in violating rights or liberties of people. But if there is a code, if there’s a worm that’s being inserted, we need to know when that’s happening.”

Clearly any action on the front of protecting the nation from a cyberattack is surely going to be opposed by various groups because of cost and privacy concerns. Napolitano thinks that regardless of people’s concerns, the time for action is now: “Attacks are coming all the time. They are coming from different sources, they take different forms. But they are increasing in seriousness and sophistication.”

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images