Cyber-security Czar Gives IT a Wake-Up Call

White House cyber-security czar Richard Clarke paints a stark picture of the nation's IT vulnerabilities, saying both public and private networks are unprepared for attacks.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--White House cyber-security czar Richard Clarke paints a stark picture of the nations IT vulnerabilities, saying both public and private networks are unprepared for attacks.

Clarke portrayed the IT industry as complacent and in danger of falling into the same trap that aviation officials were lured into that led to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We seriously have to reflect on the connection to what we do and that terrible day," Clarke told a packed house of security professionals during the opening keynote here at the RSA Conference 2002.

Despite the downbeat nature of most of Clarkes remarks, the top government security official said work is being done in both the public and private sectors and "improvements are being made … but speed is very important."

Clarke said the terrorist attacks taught a number of lessons that are applicable to IT, chief among them that the nation and its infrastructure will continue to have enemies.

"Even after weve found all the little Al Queda rats in all their little caves, we will still have enemies," Clarke said. "And they are smart. What they did on Sept. 11 required timing, training, precision, guts.

"Our enemies will use our technology against us, just as the hijackers used our planes," he said. "They will look for seams where the infrastructure is fractured. And it is. We didnt build it to handle this kind of stress. It wasnt built with the idea that it would be attacked."

Clarke said the call to arms for IT security is vital because our infrastructure is interconnected in "ways we have never imagined."

"We have to stop pretending that weve built a beautiful system that is above question," Clarke said. Again, the cyber-security chief referred back to the September attacks.

"The aviation industry knew about their security vulnerabilities, but they convinced themselves and each other that they would never be used," Clarke told the audience. "Dont worry about it. It wont happen.

"If IT continues to think the same way, we will suffer the same fate … very soon. Our vulnerabilities are too well-known."

Among the problems facing IT security is the rift between vendors and users over the desire to promote secure products, Clarke said.

According to Clarke, vendors have told him that customers are not interested in paying a premium for more secure products. Users, meanwhile, report that they would like more secure versions but cant get them from vendors.

"Someone is not telling the truth," Clarke said. Both sides have to make security a priority, he added.

In assigning blame for the state of IT security, Clarke did not shelter the government. "It has been said that the federal government should be a model of cyber-security," he said. "We are. Were a model of how not to do it."

But Clarke added that President Bush "is putting his money where his policy is" by earmarking $4 billion of the $50 billion to be spent on government IT for security.

Clarke compared that proposed government commitment of 8.1 percent to the current level of private IT spending for security. Clarke quoted studies that show the enterprise on average spends 0.0025 percent of total revenues on security, "less than they spend on coffee," he said.

"Continue that, and you will be hacked," Clarke warned. "Moreover, you deserve to be hacked."

As for improvements, Clarke said his office has been at work developing a national strategy for cyber-security. The ongoing effort, which can bee seen at, will result in "a dynamic document that will change in Internet time," Clarke said.

Over the next month, the government will continue to solicit questions from security professionals to determine what the policy should address.

Clarke said the industry and the government need to work together on a number of fronts, including funding more training for security professionals and creating a joint cyber-warning information network.

Education efforts should also include the American public at large, where home users are incresingly coming under attack as they adopt DSL and other broadband technologies.

He also challenged the industry to stop thinking "that it is a violation of the philosophy of the Internet if everything is not connected to everything else."

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