The US National Security Agency (NSA) is to start monitoring the networks of public companies for security holes as part of an early warning system against online attack.
The NSA said that the Perfect Citizen programme will ask companies to install network monitoring equipment to look for suspicious online activity.
The first stage of the programme will focus on legacy systems in the power and nuclear industries, and the work has been outsourced to Raytheon in a $100m (£66m) contract, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
"The overall purpose of the [programme] is that our government feels it needs to ensure that the public sector is doing all it can to secure infrastructure critical to our national security," said the Raytheon email. "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother."
According to officials, the NSA will not force companies to take part in the project, but can offer incentives particularly if the company is a beneficiary of government contracts. Raytheon may also be looking for partners to carry out the work.
Analyst house Gartner has also warned of the dangers of such monitoring, following claims in 2006 that leading telcos had divulged millions of phone records to the NSA.
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