Congress urged to do more to secure Internet

By Lolita C. Baldor
Associated Press / February 24, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The US government must take a more active role in securing the Internet, industry experts told Congress yesterday, arguing that the prospect of a serious attack is growing as businesses and governments rely more on cyberspace.

Comparing the digital age to the dawn of automobiles, analysts said more regulations may be the only way to force the public and private sectors to counter cyber threats adequately. They compared the need for new oversight to regulations for seat belts and safety equipment that made US highways safer.

At stake is the need to secure the financial and power systems vital to national security and daily life without choking off innovation and competition. President Obama declared cybersecurity a major priority early last year, but his administration struggled to make progress, not naming a cyber coordinator until December.

“Cyber has become so important to the lives of our citizens and the functioning of our economy that gone are the days when Silicon Valley could say hands off to a government role,’’ Michael McConnell, former director of national intelligence, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The panel has been trying for the past year to draft a bill that would map out a way the government and private industry could work together to protect critical computer networks.

Now on their fourth major draft, committee leaders have struggled to overcome protests from industry leaders and private groups who say the government should provide financial and other incentives, but stay away from regulation.

McConnell and others, however, warned that cyber attacks already are siphoning millions of dollars out of the economy, and critical networks that run the power grid, transportation lines, and nuclear safeguards are vulnerable to “hacktivists.’’

US computer networks, from the Defense Department to small companies, are scanned and probed millions of times a day. The assaults range from small-time hackers looking to steal credit card data to nation-states and terror groups aimed at espionage or disrupting vital computer systems.

The Senate bill would raise the White House cyber adviser to a Cabinet-level position that would need Senate confirmation.