The West

Obama may act to stop cyber attacks
Obama may act to stop cyber attacks

The Obama administration could use its executive power to force critical industries to protect their computer networks after Congress failed to pass legislation.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said: "If the Congress is not going to act on something like this, then the President is going to do everything possible."

His comments reflect escalating US worries about cyber attacks and industrial espionage responsible for the theft of billions of dollars in high-tech data from US companies.

There are concerns an attack could shut down critical water or power plants.

A fierce lobbying effort by business stalled legislation in the Senate, even after authors revised the Bill so it called for voluntary participation by companies, rather than creating new regulations.

Mr Brennan said the White House was looking at possible additional guidelines or changes in policy, but he did not indicate whether such measures would encourage voluntary action.

"I think the administration is seriously frustrated over the lack of congressional action and may decide they have no choice" but to act administratively, said Roger Cressey, who served as a cybersecurity and counterterrorism adviser in the Clinton and George W Bush administrations.

Mr Cressey said the administration was considering a number of options to entice industry to opt-in to voluntary computer security standards.

Senate leaders have said they will take another stab at passing the computer security Bill in September. But at least one of the Bill's authors, Susan Collins, voiced concern about the impact of White House action.

"Given the threat, I understand the administration's desire to act, but an executive order should not be a substitute for legislative action," Senator Collins said.

Top military, intelligence and national security officials have ramped up their warnings.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has described the threat as the next Pearl Harbor. And intelligence officials issued a landmark report late last year charging China and Russia with methodically stealing high-tech data from US companies to boost their own economies.

The next step, according to experts, is hackers, criminals, terrorists or enemy nations taking down critical US industries with computer viruses.

The West Australian

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