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updated 3/14/2011 2:14:10 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:14:10

SAN FRANCISCO -- At last week’s RSA security conference here, every type of Internet-based security concern was discussed and dissected.

Without a doubt, America’s information infrastructure is under constant attack. But are we truly in the midst of a cyberwar ?

That’s the question that a top-notch panel tried to answer. It consisted of former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former National Security Agency Director John Michael McConnell, James Lewis, a director and senior fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Technology and Public Policy Program, and security expert Bruce Schneier.

The term “cyberwar,” said Schneier, is “sexier” than “cyberattacks,” or any of the other terms that have “cyber” slapped in front. It gets attention, he noted — and, possibly, better security budgets.

Not that the problem isn’t real. But Chertoff pointed out that there is a difference between real warfare and issues that are simply looming security threats — and that like a real war, a cyberwar could have devastating consequences.

What escalates the cyberwar concerns are incidents that put nations’ security at risk, such as WikiLeaks ’ publication of secret documents or the Stuxnet Trojan that set back Iran’s nuclear program.

A successful cyberwar attack could inflict major damage on both a country’s information infrastructure and its utility grids.

“Rather than using bombs to attack, it is cheaper and more effective to use Internet attacks,” said Phil Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software, which provides security solutions for government agencies.

Policing cyber-attacks of any kind presents a problem for the U.S. government because the division between private and public property can become blurred on the Internet.

“The conflict's occurring on your network and your machines. Do you want the government on your network?” asked Chertoff. “If not, do you want to protect your network? The categories we use don't really work in this kind of frame.”

The open question of governance over cybersecurity was brought up repeatedly throughout the RSA conference, showing that there is still much disagreement about who should be defining how to best protect the national and global information infrastructure.

One step toward developing a defense against cyber-attacks, said Lieberman, would be to clean up the way access to information is handled.

It could start with simple actions, he said, such as making sure there are no common credentials used across several government systems, including shared passwords for multiple accounts.

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