Jane Harman — director, president, and CEO of the Wilson Center — asked, "What would a cyber 9/11 look like and how soon could it happen?"
"It could happen imminently." Napolitano said. She said several things could happen and described the possibility of the electric grid being taken down. She spoke about the power loss Hurricane Sandy survivors experienced as an example of what could happen during that particular scenario. She did not mention any other attack scenarios.
"So, we have been, you know, kind of trying to get this word out. The secretary of defense has, I have, the Attorney General has, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs has, saying, 'Look, we shouldn't wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world. There are things we can and should be doing right now that, if not prevent, would mitigate the extent of damage that could be caused.'"
Napolitano said Homeland Security has a 24-hour watch center, expert employees, and agreements with the Defense Department and the National Security Agency for utilizing their technical expertise.
"Really in the cyber world, myself, Bob Mueller — the head of the FBI, and Keith Alexander — General Alexander — the head of the NSA, have worked very closely together to develop playbooks and to really ascertain who has what roles and what responsibilities in different types of scenarios," Napolitano said.
In "civilian space" — described as the dot-coms and dot-orgs of the internet — she said "our ability to detect, prevent, and mitigate is materially based on whether we know something has occurred."
" ... an executive order can do so much. The legislation is going to be critical. And it’s one of those areas where part of our job is to educate the Congress on what is going on out there, educate the public. We say 'cyber' and everybody’s eyes glaze over. I can see it. I can see it in some of you." Napolitano said.
According to the Associated Press, President Obama wrote an executive order that would allow DHS to share cyber-threat information, gathered by the government, with businesses involved in critical infrastructure. The draft order also recommended that businesses share security breaches and threats with DHS.
NBC News reported that President Obama is expected to sign the order and that it "would set up a voluntary system to help protect some critical infrastructure and offer incentives to companies that participate. But without a new law, companies cannot be granted any kind of legal immunity for sharing information with the government and within the industry about potential threats."
" ... the clarion call is here and we need to be dealing with this very urgently," Napolitano warned. "Attacks are coming all the time. They are coming from different sources, they take different forms. But they are increasing in seriousness and sophistication."