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U.S. Official Warns of Cyber Catastrophe

By Michael Mahoney
Dec 11, 2000 5:00 PM PT

National Security Council top cyber-official Richard Clarke said Friday that the next president of the United States has to make Internet security a top priority if the country is to avoid potentially catastrophic events.

U.S. Official Warns of Cyber Catastrophe

"What are we prepared to do now to reduce the probability and to mitigate the damages when a major cyber event does occur? That is the meta-question that will face the new President in the area of cyber security," said Clarke, the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism.

Clarke's comments were made at a Microsoft-sponsored conference of leading cyber privacy experts.

Growing Threats

Clarke said that as a country whose national security depends on the protection of its IT networks, the U.S. is vulnerable to cyber attacks from what he called the "information war units" of other nations.

Because the United States' IT network infrastructure was designed by multiple architects, "those who wish to do us ill in cyberspace can do so easily," Clarke said.

The new president will find that "most of the federal agencies have poor cyber security and are not properly protecting Privacy Act material residing on their networks and in their databases," Clarke said.

New Authority

Clarke called for the creation of a new "Chief Information Infrastructure Officer," with the government-wide authority to "create and enforce standards of computer security for essential government systems."

Clarke also said government should work together with the technology industry to build a secure zone in the cyber infrastructure where, "messages could travel on fiber and switches exclusively serving authenticated messages."

Private sector involvement in such a security zone would be voluntary, Clarke proposed, and the plan would require an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act so that "corporations will share data about their cyber security vulnerabilities."

"In the critical infrastructure part of cyberspace, privacy and security can be achieved, but only if we end anonymity," he said.

Program Unveiled

Clarke also announced that the Clinton administration is creating a new scholarship program, called CyberCorps, to recruit government security experts. As part of the program, computer security students would receive US$25,000 in scholarship money for each year they agree to sign on with the government.

Last Friday, the government said it has doubled its cyber security spending to $2 billion a year.

E-Commerce Costs

Other speakers at the security conference addressed the impact of faltering cyber security on e-commerce.

According to Forrester Research, more than 35 million households made online purchases this year, but about half curtailed their online shopping because of privacy concerns. Another 20 million households refrained entirely from online shopping for the same reason, resulting in annual estimated lost sales of $12.2 billion.

"Even when we focused on those online for four years or more, over half of them still have serious reservations about their privacy on the Web," said John McCarthy of Forrester Research.


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