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Clinton Warns Of Cyber Threat

Warning that America is increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks, President Clinton ordered the strengthening of defenses against terrorists, germ warfare and other unconventional security threats of the 21st century.

In a commencement address Friday at the U.S. Naval Academy, Clinton said critical parts of the nation's infrastructure already are endangered. "Hackers break into government and business computers," he said. "They can raid banks, run up credit card charges, extort money by threats to unleash computer viruses.

"If we fail to take strong action," the president said, "then terorrists, criminals and hostile regimes could invade and paralyze these vital systems, disrupting commerce, threatening health, weakening our capacity to function in a crisis."

On a beautiful spring morning, Clinton paused to shake hands with or hug each of the 769 men and 139 women of the graduating class. Following tradition, they hurled their academy caps skyward after a round of cheers. The day was enlivened by a thunderous flyover by the Blue Angels in six Navy F/A-18 Hornets.

But it was a somber message that Clinton delivered, warning that the nuclear threats of the Cold War are being replaced with new security challenges in the information age.

"As we approach the 21st century," he said, "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."

He issued two presidential decision directives, one of them aimed at protecting telecommunications, banking and finance, energy, transportation and essential government services. The measure requires an immediate risk assessment and planning to reduce exposure to attack. It sets a goal of ensuring a secure information system infrastructure by 2003.

The directive envisions a close partnership between the government and the private sector, which has a big financial stake in ensuring a safe and reliable information network.

Clinton's second directive established an office to coordinate policies dealing with counterterrorism, protection of critical infrastructure, preparedness and management of weapons of mass destructure. Leading the office will be National Security Council adviser Richard Clarke, who specializes in issues such as drug trafficking and terrorism.

To deal with biological threats, Clinton ordered the development and unprecedented stockpiling of antibiotics and vaccines such as for smallpox and anthrax for civilians.

Further, the president directed that public health and medical surveillance systems be upgraded to detect and sound the alarm on any release of bacteria or viruses.

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