Tom Noonan, chief executive officer for Internet Security Systems, told the gathering Tuesday that logging onto the Internet is like entering a dangerous neighborhood. Risks include identity fraud and intellectual property and credit card theft.
"This is the first national security threat the government can't handle alone," said Noonan, one of five panelists in the meeting on the national strategy to secure the online infrastructure.
The meeting was the fourth in a series of nationwide meetings hosted by the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, formed in October to address web-related vulnerabilities within the federal government and the private sector. More than 25 national security officials are on the board.
"The critical infrastructure of this country may be the most vulnerable to cyber attack," said former Sen. Sam Nunn, a panelist. "This is a rather unique security challenge. There are no borders in cyberspace."
Howard Schmidt, vice chairman of the board and a panelist, emphasized the importance of providing education and training for mid-career professionals. He said only eight people received Ph.D.s last year in Internet security.
While most universities offer computer science degrees, they seldom have programs focused on Internet security, said Player Pate, spokesman for Atlanta-based Internet Security Systems.
Pate said many people don't know that when they log onto the Internet, they're open to attack, even if they have anti-virus protection and a firewall. He recommends an anti-intrusion device.
"You're connecting to the Internet through this pipeline," Pate said. "That is what attackers look for."
The panelists agreed that fighting cyberterrorism requires large corporations, the government, international governments, small businesses and consumers to work together.
"Waiting for disaster to happen is not a strategy," Nunn said.