Panetta's warning came as Congress was considering cybersecurity legislation. The House was considering the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (H.R. 3523), better known as CISPA, and the Senate had the Cyber Security Act of 2012 (S. 3414). But these efforts ran into the same problem that has hobbled every attempt at enacting security legislation since 9/11: Industry groups don't want new regulations or liabilities.
Neither bill made it into law, but that's hardly the end of the story.
President Obama is expected to sign, perhaps in two months, an executive order to force critical infrastructure providers to meet some basic cybersecurity requirements.
Greg Nojeim, the senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said one issue is whether government regulations would hold a business liable if it fails to sufficiently thwart an attack. One of the bills sought to limit that liability, something an executive order won't be able to do, he said.
"Some believe after the executive order is issued, it might clear the way for legislation because it might be an incentive to get liability protection," said Nojeim.
But it's unclear whether any legislation would actually improve cybersecurity.
Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, helped to draft a Senate bill on cybersecurity, and he said the Senate staff made so many compromises in the legislation that they completed gutted it.
"None of the legislation either sent forward or in draft will have any positive effect on our national security, whether passed or not," said Paller. Instead, what's needed is an effort to drive federal cybersecurity "to very high levels so that the government can lead by example," he added.
Tech immigration remains difficult
The House this year approved a Republican-backed bill called the STEM Jobs Act (H.R. 6429) that provided up to 55,000 green cards for people from other countries who hold advanced degrees in science, technology engineering or math (the so-called STEM fields).
The White House opposed the bill because it eliminated the diversity lottery, which was set up to distribute green cards equally among people from countries with low rates of immigration. The White House also wants a STEM visa attached to comprehensive reform.
Will anything change in the next year?