US President Bill Clinton has told a group of Naval Academy officers that the nation needs to take strong measures to guard against cyberattacks.
Clinton also signed a directive last week establishing the offices of National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism, which will oversee a variety of policies and programs. Those will cover counter-terrorism and the protection of critical infrastructure, which includes communications networks.
"As we approach the 21st century, our foes have extended the fields of battle -- from physical space to cyberspace; from the world's vast bodies of water to the complex workings of our own human bodies," said Clinton, according to a transcript of the speech he gave at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. "Rather than invading our beaches or launching bombers, these adversaries may attempt cyberattacks against our critical military systems and our economic base."
Pointing to the satellite failure earlier this week, which disabled most of the nation's paging networks and broadcasting and data services, Clinton said the incident highlights the country's dependence on technology and the vulnerability of communications networks.
"Intentional attacks against our critical systems already are underway. Hackers break into government and business computers. They can raid banks, run up credit card charges, extort money by threats to unleash computer viruses," he said.
In order to be better prepared, Clinton called for the establishment of an early warning system to be operational by 2003. The system should be capable of detecting and defending against attacks on critical infrastructures such as power systems, water supplies, air traffic control, financial services, telephone systems, computer networks, and police, fire and medical services.
"Just 15 years ago, these infrastructures -- some within government, some in the private sector -- were separate and distinct," Clinton said. "Now, they are linked together over vast computer-electronic networks, greatly increasing our productivity, but also making us much more vulnerable to disruption. ... If we fail to take strong action, then terrorists, criminals and hostile regimes could invade and paralyze these vital systems, disrupting commerce, threatening health, weakening our capacity to function in a crisis," he warned.
The president appointed National Security Council adviser Richard Clarke, to head a new office on infrastructure protection and counterterrorism. Also, former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn and Jamie Gorelick, formerly the US Justice Department's number-two official and now the Federal National Mortgage Association's vice chairwoman, will lead a private industry advisory group, the Dow Jones news service reported.
Today's moves follow an October 1997 recommendation by the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection that the government create a real-time warning capability modeled upon the military's air defense and missile-warning system.
While the commission found no evidence of an impending cyberattack on the nation's infrastructure, its members warned that the capability to exploit weaknesses in the country's power, telecommunications, transportation and financial segments does exist.
In addition, US Attorney General Janet Reno announced in February an interagency effort to track and analyze electronic threats to the nation's critical infrastructures, such as communications, transportation and energy networks.
The National Infrastructure Protection Center will include the Computer Investigations and Infrastructure Threat Assessment Center of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, and will add real-time intrusion-detection capabilities for cyberattacks directed at various national, electronic infrastructures.
Clinton's speech and directives can be viewed at http//library.whitehouse.gov/.