White House: Net Security in U.S. Hands

The Clinton administration’s new Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office held a series of meetings this week to remind IT professionals that the world is relying on U.S. companies for Internet security.

“It is the boardrooms of America that hold the key to ensuring the Internet and computer networks will always be open for business,” Commerce Secretary William Daley told government and corporate technology leaders.

According to Daley, the private sector must take the lead in this global security concern. “I believe IT people in companies understand the very real security concerns out there,” he said. “They know cyberspace can be vulnerable. The threats to the networks from hackers, or insiders, or foreign governments are real. It is time these issues be elevated to America’s boardrooms.”

Y2K Parallel

Daley likened the current worries about Internet hackers to the Year 2000 software bug that companies battled over the last two years. “The fact that board members and audit committees all over America knew how big a problem Y2K could be kept the pressure on management to act in the very responsible way they did,” Daley said.

Similar pressure, again from the IT people, can force the companies that build and use the Internet to take hackers seriously, he argued.

Though losing customers and revenues from a security breach is reason enough to become more active in defense efforts, Daley said, the “greater economic risk to the United States and other world economies is far more significant. In the old economy, if one plant that makes widgets goes down, it hurts. But the impact in the new economy, where a network failure can bring down all of the phone service in a region, or all of the communications, or all the e-commerce, is enormous,” he said.

Freedom and Responsibility

The United States hosts 60 percent of the world’s Internet assets and has become the country most dependent on information technology. Despite that critical situation, the federal government alone cannot protect the country’s Internet infrastructure, Daley said.

“We can’t hire a police force big enough to protect all of industry’s key information assets,” he added. “Nor would you want us to.”

Instead, the federal government will make sure it protects its own computer networks — including spending $2 billion (US$) on that effort if Congress approves Clinton’s budget request — but will play only a secondary role in the private sector’s security efforts.

“The responsibility to protect [private sector infrastructure] rests largely with industry. One of the reasons the Internet has worked so well is that it has been free of government — and I like to keep it that way,” Daley said.

Clinton Builds Bridges

Meanwhile, President Clinton pressed U.S. Internet companies for greater commitment to closing the digital divide Tuesday in a historic address to the COMDEX annual convention in Chicago, Illinois.

Clinton became the first U.S. president to address a computer industry trade show — further cementing the political importance of computer companies in today’s economy.

“I am quite sure I will not be the last [president to address COMDEX]. Information technology has accounted for about 30 percent of this remarkable economic growth we’ve had, even though people directly working in IT only account for about 8 percent of our employment,” Clinton said.

The visit to Chicago, which included a walk through the COMDEX exhibit floor with students from a community technology center serving urban youth, was the third stop on Clinton’s New Markets tour.

The President has also visited East Palo Alto, California and Shiprock, New Mexico.

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