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Digital Threats Mark New Front in Nation’s Security

President Obama unveiled plans Friday to shore up the safety of U.S. computer networks, including naming a new "cyber czar." Analysts examine the nature of digital vulnerabilities.

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    At the White House this morning, President Obama warned, it's already taken too long to address computer security. He said the country now faces what he called a transformational moment.

    BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: Our technological advantage is a key to America's military dominance. But our defense and military networks are under constant attack.

    Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have spoken of their desire to unleash a cyber-attack on our country, attacks that are harder to detect and harder to defend against. Indeed, in today's world, acts of terror could come not only from a few extremists in suicide vests, but from a few key strokes on the computer, a weapon of mass disruption.


    Just last April, The Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. electrical grid had been hacked. It said cyber-spies probed the power system and planted software to cause disruptions.

    Another report said the Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter program was struck, but officials insisted the breach was nothing serious.

    Overall, the Defense Department reported 360 million attempts to penetrate its data networks last year, up from six million in 2006. And cyber-damage has cost $100 million over six months. Add to that rising threats to the private sector, including losses from identity theft and monetary scams, and the president said, it's clearly time for urgent action.


    From now on, our digital infrastructure, the networks and computers we depend on every day, will be treated as they should be, as a strategic national asset.

    Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority. We will ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy, and resilient. We will deter, prevent, detect and defend against attacks, and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage.


    The president said he would soon appoint a coordinator to head a new White House office on digital security.

    He also laid out a broad strategy to safeguard vital private and public computer networks. Those would include systems that handle financial transactions at the stock exchanges and manage air traffic control of the nation's skies.

    Meanwhile, the Defense Department is crafting its own cyber-security military command to complement the new civilian efforts.