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updated 8/8/2008 3:00:25 PM ET 2008-08-08T19:00:25

One of the United States' biggest challenges in securing government computers from foreign attacks isn't necessarily technical. The country first needs to figure out how much those networks are worth and how much the U.S. should spend on protecting them, the new Homeland Security official in charge of that effort said Thursday.

Rod Beckstrom, director of the newly created National Cyber Security Center, an agency responsible for protecting the government's computer networks, was making his first major address to the computer security community. He steered clear of specifics in his hourlong talk at the Black Hat hacker convention, because he said the agency is still developing its plans.

Beckstrom, a technology entrepreneur and author, reports to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The job of his new agency is to monitor and analyze data about threats to government networks. It's an increasingly important duty because hackers are intensifying their attacks, having already broken into the networks of at least one government research laboratory and even the Pentagon over the past year.

Beckstrom said the government needs to do more research on things like the physics of networking, the economics of networks and security, and risk management to help figure out what the U.S. cyber protection system will look like. He also said rogue government workers remain a major concern, in addition to hackers.

"We need to do a lot more work in these areas to have the models to move forward," Beckstrom said. "We've got to move forward because we've got to change the odds of this game."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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