Page last updated at 22:30 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 23:30 UK

Cyber risk 'equals 9/11 impact'

By Maggie Shiels
BBC News, San Francisco

Michael Chertoff speaks at the RSA Conference, San Francisco, 8 April 2008
Michael Chertoff appealed to security experts to work for the common good

The US homeland security chief has made a heartfelt plea to Silicon Valley workers to stand up and be counted in the fight to secure the cyber highway.

Michael Chertoff invoked the attacks of 9/11 as he sought to galvanise IT professionals and security experts.

He told the world's biggest IT security conference that serious threats to cyberspace are on "a par this country tragically experienced on 9/11".

Such attacks can hit financial bodies and a government's powers, he said.

"We take threats to the cyber world as seriously as we take threats to the material world," Mr Chertoff added.

'Desire to serve'

Speaking to a packed auditorium at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, Mr Chertoff pointed out that securing the nation's internet highways and byways was a job the federal government could not do alone.

Appealing to the private sector, the homeland security boss reached out and simply said: "Please send some of your brightest and best to do service in the government."

It was, he said, "the best thing you can do for your country".

And, if the crowd was somewhat sceptical about getting into bed with the government on this issue, Mr Chertoff talked of the first big-name Silicon Valley recruit to the cause.

Rod Beckstrom is best known for starting, a company that provides collaboration software for browser.

Having rallied to the cause, he will now head a new inter-agency group tasked with co-ordinating the federal government's efforts to protect its computer networks from organised cyber attacks.

Speaking at a news conference afterwards, Mr Chertoff admitted to BBC News that he needed the private sector to get involved and that he was unashamed in trying to tug at the heart strings rather than the wallets of Silicon Valley workers.

"We don't compete with the private sector with money. I can tell you what can motivate people is the desire to serve," he said.

"But, yeah, it is ultimately an appeal for doing something [more] for the common good than for your own enrichment."

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