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Bush pressed for more Net security

CNN | December 8 2004

Computer-security experts, including former government officials, urged the Bush administration on Tuesday to devote more effort to strengthening defenses against viruses, hackers and other online threats.

The Bush administration should spend more on computer-security research, share threat information with private-sector security vendors, and set up an emergency computer network that would remain functional during Internet blackouts, a computer-security trade group said.

The Homeland Security Department should also give more authority to the official who oversees cyber security, members of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance said.

The Homeland Security Department, which was not immediately available for comment, opposes such a move.

"There's certainty across the cyber security community that we are still vulnerable and we need to do more," said Amit Yoran, who served as Homeland Security's point man on cyber security until he abruptly resigned in October amid reports that he was frustrated with his lack of authority.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, experts warned that power plants and other vital parts of the nation's infrastructure could be compromised through online hacking.

Business and home computer users, meanwhile, have struggled with a flood of viruses, spam and other plagues that have evolved in the past year into coordinated criminal attempts to steal bank account numbers and other sensitive information.

The Bush administration developed a plan to improve security that relies heavily on industry cooperation and charged the Homeland Security Department with implementing it.

Over the past 18 months, Yoran and other Homeland Security officials have worked to increase coordination between law-enforcement officials and security vendors like Symantec Corp. and RSA Security Inc.

The government has also struggled to upgrade the security of its own systems, which consistently get failing grades from congressional investigators.

Security experts said the government's efforts haven't been enough.

"I think we've raised the profile, but I don't think we got the support within the administration that we should have," said Art Coviello, the chief executive at RSA Security.

The government should try to estimate the damages caused by online attacks, secure online control systems for water-treatment plants and other critical infrastructure, and urge the Senate to ratify an international cybercrime treaty, Coviello and other security experts said at a press conference.

One especially important move, they said, would be to elevate Yoran's successor to the assistant-secretary level within the Homeland Security Department.

House of Representatives lawmakers had included that provision within the massive intelligence reorganization bill, but Homeland Security officials convinced the Senate to leave it out.

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