We usually think of the Internet as a place where we can obtain information, communicate with others, and engage in various business and personal activities.

However, is it also a new battlefield?

Yes, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Indeed, as reported by Reuters, he maintains that while hackers have already attacked financial institutions, they also have the capability to strike mission-critical domestic power grids and government systems.

Panetta made this comment to a business group in Virginia. One week before, he gave a policy speech to a New York business group, in which he indicated that the U.S. military has the capacity to take pre-emptive measures in the event of an imminent risk of online attacks.

Secretary Panetta stated that domestic financial institutions have been experiencing sustained attacks recently. And he noted, without indicating the countries of origin, that Washington faces thousands of attacks every day.

He indicated that the United States has made real investments in cyber forensics to address the issue of identifying the sources of cyber attacks.

Panetta further described that Congress needs to feel more pressure to act to avoid a round of automatic budget cuts due to go into effect in January. The cuts apparently would reduce $500 billion from defense spending during the next decade, in the aftermath of almost an equal cut in projected defense spending approved a year ago.

Plainly, if the Secretary of Defense is concerned based on sensitive information available to him, the threat of cyber warfare truly needs to be explored and countered before significant harm could be caused by online attacks.