By Rob Reynolds Washington correspondent
updated 12/8/2004 12:18:25 PM ET 2004-12-08T17:18:25

Saying the nation’s vital infrastructure is too vulnerable to cyber terrorism and computer crime, a group of industry experts called on the Bush administration to take tougher counter measures.

The Cyber Security Industry Alliance chose the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks to sound the alarm over a new threat to America. 

"We are already under significant attack: It's not one big one, it’s daily," said Arthur Caviello, CEO of RSA Security.

“If you take a look at the number of worms and viruses and spyware and adware, that’s really bringing our computers to their knees," said Krishna Kolluri, head of the security products group at Juniper Networks.

Cyber criminals, many of them operating out of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have stepped up spamming, identity theft, and fraud, stealing valuable information and money from consumers and businesses.

Cyber terrorists could do enormous economic harm, said Citadel Security CEO Steve Solomon.

"It’s an economic war we are in right now," Solomon said. "It’s no longer about the bombs. Cyber attack is the economic war they are trying to have on us right now -- to change our way of life, affect our economy and destroy our nation. That’s what they want to do."

Specific action urged
The group also pointed to Internet vulnerabilities that affect vital parts of the nation's infrastructure such as the power grid, banking and finanical institutions and emergency response agencies. The government needs to assert more leadership in this area, they said. 

"Given the level of threats and vulnerabilities we have the number of attacks we have against our information systems, the government needs to take it up a few more notches," said Paul Kurtz, executive director of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance.

Among the recommendations issued by the group, the White House is urged to:

  • Create an assistant secretary for cyber security in the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Ratify the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime which defines computer crimes.
  • Lead by example by requiring federal contractors to deploy state-of-the-art security.
  • Boost research and development funding for cyber security.

A poll conducted in October shows 90 percent of computer owners install security software, but only 10 percent regularly update it. The Harris Interactive poll for Bentley College found that 30 percent  are not knowledgeable about computer viruses, 40 percent don’t know about spyware, and 35 percent believe the government should require the computer industry to ensure that all home computers are secure.

In fact, the Sarbannes Oxley Act already orders publicly traded companies to employ stringent computer security measures to protect financial reporting. But many companies say the guidelines lack specific details on what level of security is required.

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