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World: Cyberterrorist Threat Calls For Government And Business Collaboration

  • Julie Moffett

Washington, 27 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A newly released U.S. report concludes that America's security, economy, way of life, and perhaps even survival are now dependent on a complex network of electrical energy, communications and computers.

The report was written by a U.S. presidential commission which has been studying America's cyber vulnerabilities for the past 15 months. The full report is classified, but an unclassified summary was made available to reporters last week.

According to the report, "astonishingly rapid" innovations in the computer and communications field has ushered in an "Information Age" that affects nearly all aspects of American commerce and society.

Those new innovations have caused a growing number of vulnerabilities, says the report, some of which could seriously threaten U.S. national security.

Says the report: "National defense is not just about government anymore, and economic security is not just about business. The critical infrastructures are central to our national defense and our economic power, and we must lay the foundations for their future security on a new form of cooperation between the private sector and the federal government."

The report says classical terrorist tools such as bombs and other explosive devices still need to be guarded against, but that cyber threats have to be taken seriously.

Says the report: "Today, the right command sent over a network 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."

Moreover, the report concludes that the rapid growth of a computer-literate population around the world ensures that hundreds of millions of people have, or will soon have, the skills necessary to plan and carry out such an attack.

To address this problem, the commission issued several recommendations to U.S. President Bill Clinton:

To develop a broad program of public awareness and education about the cyber threats, ranging from the White House to elementary schools.

Effective and regular information sharing between the government and the private sector regarding protective measures.

Serious reconsideration and reconstruction of existing laws related to infrastructure protection and cyberterrorism.

A revised program of research and development devoted solely to countering cyber threats and attacks.

The report concludes that in order for cyber protection to be effective, the government and the private sector have to work together.

Adds the report: "In the past we have been protected from hostile attacks on our infrastructures by broad oceans and friendly neighbors. Today the evolution of cyber threats has changed the situation dramatically. In cyberspace national borders are no longer relevant. Electrons don't stop to show passports."