White House officials are considering a series of recommendations to protect the US from computer terrorists, following the delivery of a top level report warning that the nation is highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
The Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection submitted the findings of a 15-month inquiry into the threat from cyber-terrorists to the national economy. The report warns: "National defence is not just about government any more, and economic security is not just about business any more...today, the right command sent over the Internet to a power generating station's control computer could be just as effective as a backpack full of explosives and the perpetrator would be harder to identify and apprehend."
The report urges President Clinton to instigate a national educational programme while ordering a revision of existing laws to ensure protection against electronic attacks through the Internet. Specifically, it wants to see revisions to legislation enabling private companies to conduct criminal, personal and psychological background checks when hiring computer experts for sensitive positions.
"Law has failed to keep pace with technology," according to the report. "Some laws capable of promoting assurance are not as clear or effective as they could be. We identified existing laws that could help the government take the lead and serve as a model of standards and practices for the private sector."
Among the recommendations in the report is the creation of a White House office to coordinate the security responsibilities of the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Justice, Treasury and Transportation. The Commission also wants to set up an Information Analysis and Warning Centre, which could collate incidents of computer security breaches and send out solutions for countering them to industry and government agencies.
The Commission urges the President immediately to double the $250 million now spent on research aimed at countering threats of computer attacks, then increase it by $100 million each year. By 2004, it recommends that a budget of $1 billion should be assigned to the task.
Commission chairman Robert Marsh said: "While a catastrophic cyber-attack has not occurred, we have enough isolated incidents to know that the potential for disaster is real and the time to act is now."
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