FCC Chief Presses Internet Providers on Cybersecurity

Internet-service providers should adopt an industrywide standard to help keep hackers from taking over customers’ computers, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said.

Providers of high-speed Internet service, such as Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc., should create a voluntary code of conduct to help protect against so-called botnets that secretly infect computers, Genachowski said in a speech today in Washington. He urged providers to take steps to thwart schemes that hijack Internet traffic and direct consumers to fraudulent websites.

“Cyber attacks pose a critical threat to our economic future and national security,” Genachowski said. “If you shut down the Internet, you’d shut down our economy.”

Genachowski’s remarks add to debate in Washington over how to strengthen security of computer networks. A bipartisan Senate bill introduced last week would require tougher defenses by companies running systems essential to U.S. economic and national security.

The push for comprehensive cybersecurity legislation has intensified following attacks last year on companies including New York-based Citigroup Inc., the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, and Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense company.

Genachowski spoke at an event sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based group founded by former lawmakers that says it works to promote bipartisan solutions to public-policy issues.

‘Global Priority’

“Protecting American consumers, businesses and governments from cybersecurity threats should be a global priority,” Kyle McSlarrow, head of Comcast/NBC Universal’s Washington office, said in an e-mailed statement. “To be effective, everyone who is a part of the Internet ecosystem must play a meaningful role.”

AT&T “will evaluate” recommendations from the FCC and looks forward to broader discussions proposed by the Commerce Department, Bob Quinn, senior vice president of federal regulatory and chief privacy officer, said in an e-mailed statement.

The government needs to establish rules to ensure that companies adequately shield vital networks, Michael Chertoff, a former Homeland Security Secretary under President George W. Bush, and Mike McConnell, former director of national intelligence under Bush, said during a conference today in Washington. The event was sponsored by George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute.

Monitoring Traffic

McConnell, vice chairman of Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., a McLean, Virginia-based government contractor, called for establishing a center where the U.S. National Security Agency, phone carriers and Internet-service providers could share information on cyberthreats.

“If you put that together you’ve got a tremendous capability,” McConnell said. He acknowledged that creating such a facility would raise concerns about the NSA monitoring Internet traffic sent over private networks in the U.S.

Chertoff, who founded the Chertoff Group, a Washington-based security-consulting firm, praised the Senate measure for creating a process through which companies would meet network requirements.

“In this area, the market will fail to do an adequate job,” he said. Without government rules, companies would face requirements imposed by courts in response to lawsuits over computer network attacks, he said.

The Senate bill is S. 2105.

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