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CEOs hear the unpleasant truth about computer security

Encryption codes are one way for governments and corporations to stop computer hackers
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CNN's Ann Kellan reports

'We can, and must, reduce those vulnerabilities'

April 6, 1998
Web posted at: 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 GMT)

From Correspondent Ann Kellan

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Computer hackers breaking into government and corporate computers is estimated to be a $10 billion-a-year problem, so CEOs met Monday in Atlanta to hear what government and industry experts are doing about it.

They learned, among other things, that the Pentagon alone had 250,000 hacker attempts on its computer system last year, and that computer networks are easy targets.

They also learned that there are almost 2,000 Web sites offering tips, tools and techniques to hackers.

Among the things a hacker can do is send an e-mail to someone and attach a computer program to it. The attached program will, in the words of one hacker, "open up a back door" into the computer system it was sent to.

"Do we have vulnerability problems?" asks former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia. "Yes. Do the opportunities outweigh the vulnerabilities? Yes. But we can, and must, reduce those vulnerabilities."

The experts say that each time we use an ATM machine, turn on the water or talk on the phone we're relying on vulnerable computer networks.

And it's not just so-called "cyberpunks" breaking into those networks.

IBM chief pushes for security standards

"The bad actors who use these tools range from the recreational hacker who thrives on the thrill and challenge of breaking into somebody else's computer, to the national security threat of information warriors intent on achieving strategic advantage," said Robert Marsh of the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection.

Corporate executives are getting the message that computer networks are easy targets

According to IBM CEO Louis Gerstner, government and corporations need to work together to set standards for security practices such as hacker-resistant encryption codes.

"We should be encouraging the widespread adoption of encryption technology right now, led by U.S.-based manufacturers," Gerstner said.

CIA Director George Tenet told the CEOs not to look to the government to fix the problem.

"The government's never made a product that anybody thought was any damn good," Tenet said. "It's your responsibility to create that kind of infrastructure. ... U.S. industry has to get off its butt and get this done."

A common theme at the conference is the need for trust and cooperation between government and private industry. Speakers agreed that with computer networks so entwined, a united front is needed to avert computer security disasters.


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