US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta warns of consequences of mass cyber-attacks, comparing the consequences to those of September 11, 2001.
Mr Panetta said the US was prepared to make pre-emptive strikes against cyber threats, warning that intelligence sources revealed that "foreign actors" were targeting key systems for utilities, transport and industry.
Mr Panetta was speaking to business leaders at a conference on board the USS Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier that is now a museum.
He revealed: "An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals," said Mr Panetta in a speech to business leaders held on the USS Intrepid - a former aircraft carrier that is now a museum.
"They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.
"Such a destructive cyber-terrorist attack could paralyse the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability."
Several US companies have been targeted in cyber-attacks, in the form of receiving large amounts of data.
Mr Panetta confirmed that the US has developed tools to identify attackers and established a strike force which can conduct operations remotely, in addition to implementing changes to its rule of engagements allowing it to "confront major threats quickly".
He issued a strong warning to any potential attackers:"Potential aggressors should be aware that the United States has the capacity to locate them and hold them accountable for actions that harm America or its interests.
"If we detect an imminent threat of attack that will cause significant physical destruction or kill American citizens, we need to have the option to take action to defend the nation, when directed by the president."
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