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White House: Prepare for Super-Hackers

PALO ALTO, Calif.--In his first public appearance in his new post,

President Bush's special advisor for cyber security urged business leaders

to base their information security spending on the threat posed by

ultra-sophisticated computer attackers that may emerge in the future,

rather than the current "nuisance" created by hackers and virus writers.

Speaking at a dinner function hosted by Microsoft as part of its Trusted

Security Forum, Richard Clarke argued that a purely economic analysis of

computer security isn't enough to justify the kind of effort needed to

prevent future cyber calamity at the hands of U.S. enemies.

"If I'm going to persuade you, if I'm going to persuade this country, to

spend more money on IT security, and not just spend more money but spend

more time and intellectual effort on IT security, I'm not going to be able

to do that if the only thing that I have to show ... are the few billion

dollars that [attackers] cost us as an economy due to viruses and denial

of service attacks," said Clarke.

"Instead... ask yourself what could occur because of the vulnerability

that we have," Clarke said. Indicating computer security researchers in

the audience, Clarke asked, "What could this group do if they were

malevolent, using the vulnerabilities that they know about? Could they

create catastrophic damage that would cost our society and our economy a

lot more than the annual cost of hacking? You know the answer. Yes, they


"We haven't patched the holes, literally or figuratively. We haven't put

the patches on. We still have a system that is fragile, that is vulnerable

to sophisticated attacks. Not to 14-year-olds, but to a sophisticated

group, or nation state, with multiple simultaneous attacks."

"It could lead to catastrophic damage to the economy, and, if done at a

time of national security crisis, it could lead to catastrophic damage to

our national defense," said Clarke.

Casting himself as something of a Cassandra, Clarke said that he issued

identical warnings about U.S. exposure to physical terrorism prior to

September 11, but those warnings met with skepticism. "What I tried to

argue was that instead of looking merely at what terrorist acts had

already occurred, we should instead ask ourselves, 'what are the

vulnerabilities that we have, and how might a terrorist use them?,'" said


But in his prior position as the President's infrastructure protection and

counterterrorism advisor, Clarke was known less for predicting terrorist

attacks, than his frequent warnings that foreign

governments were preparing to launch crippling computer network attacks

against U.S. critical infrastructures, like the power grid and

telecommunications systems, resulting in an "electronic Pearl Harbor" that

would cause devastating economic damage, and even loss of life.

The position of 'special advisor for cyber security' was created last

month, when President Bush opened the Office of Homeland Security in

response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. In his new post, Clarke

reports to director of homeland security Thomas Ridge, and national

security advisor Condoleezza Rice.

Clarke said Wednesday that he requested the new cyber security post, and

was "honored" to receive it. By Kevin Poulsen

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