According to a report in The Washington Post, Panetta said in a speech to New York business leaders on Thursday that Tehran has "undertaken a concerted effort to use cyberspace to its advantage."
"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," The Post reported from Panetta's appearance at a meeting of Business Executives for National Security.
The Post quoted an unnamed former U.S. government official as saying that U.S. authorities believe that Iranian-based hackers were responsible for cyberattacks that devastated Persian Gulf oil and gas companies, including Saudi Aramco. The attacks may have been retribution for recent U.S. sanctions against Iran, the official said.
The report also states that a current U.S. official acknowledged Thursday that the Obama administration "knows who launched the cyberattacks against the Gulf companies and that it was a state actor."
"It's not something where people are throwing down the gauntlet, but I think Panetta comes pretty close to sending a clear warning [to Iran]: We know who it was, maybe you want to think twice before you do it again," cybersecurity expert James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told The Post. "I think the Iranians will put two and two together and realize he's sending them a message."
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