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Friday, 22 May, 1998, 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK
Clinton warns against 'cyber attacks'
Clinton speaks
"Our vulnerability to cyber attacks is real and growing," the US president says
The United States President Bill Clinton has announced measures to combat what he described as "cyber attacks" against the US computer networks.

Mr Clinton said the country's infrastructure was now highly vulnerable to computer hackers and extortionists, and said as much as $1bn a year would be spent on countering computer network sabotage.

"We must protect our people from danger and keep America safe and free. Our vulnerability, particularly to cyber attacks, is real and growing," he said in a speech to US Naval Academy graduates.

Terrorists and biological weapons

Mr Clinton identified three major threats - computer sabotage, terrorism and attacks using biological weapons - facing the United States in the next century.

"As we approach the 21st century, our foes have extended the fields of battle from physical space to cyberspace, from the world's vast bodies of water to the complex workings of our own human body.

"Rather than invading our beaches or launching bombers, these adversaries may attempt cyber attacks against our critical military systems and our economic base," he said.

The President said he was appointing a national coordinator to help combat the threats.

Three Israelis managed to hack into Pentagon in February
He called for an interconnected "cyber-system" that would warn and minimize damage from attacks on computers controlling stock markets, banking, utilities, air traffic and other so-called "critical infrastructure."

Private companies including IBM, Dell Computers, Bell South and GTE have already agreed to participate in the system, which the government wants to be fully operational by 2003, administration officials said.

Mr Clinton noted that earlier in the week havoc was caused by a satellite failure that left millions of Americans without pager service and disrupted some credit card systems as well as some radio and television broadcasts.

"If we fail to take strong action, then terrorists, criminals and hostile regimes could invade and paralyse these vital systems, disrupting commerce, threatening health, weakening our capacity to function in a crisis," he said.

Anthrax threat

On biological weapons, President Clinton announced plans to stockpile medical supplies including vaccines, and to train military reservists to contain any such attack.

The BBC correspondent in Washington says the arrest of two Americans in possession of the Anthrax bacterium in February served as something of a wake up call to the Clinton administration - the material was later found to be a veterinary vaccine.

President Clinton was briefed by a panel of experts in April, who told him that the United States was vulnerable to attack by biological weapons.

BBC News
Bill Clinton: "We must make these critical systems more secure" (0'27")
See also:

20 May 98 | Sci/Tech
Satellite failure silences bleepers
23 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
Hackers target Nasa and Pentagon
21 May 98 | Sci/Tech
Satellite victims turn to Net
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