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White House security chief calls for better code

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RSA The IT industry needs to stop worrying about who's behind cyber attacks and focus on making security technology easier to use and software more reliable, a senior White House security advisor told delegates at the RSA Conference today.

John Gordon, a retired US Air Force General who advises President Bush on Homeland Security, said that the industry needs to be more intolerant about security vulnerabilities in all software.

"As long as there is a vulnerability it will be exploited. It can't be beyond us to develop much higher standard code and reducing the vulnerability rate," he said.

"The industry needs to focus on removing vulnerabilities and remediation work and not get hung up on who the attacker might be."

Gordon argued there is widespread misunderstanding about the cyber terrorism risk. First, terrorists are only one of a "range of actors" who might carry out attacks on the Internet directed against a country's IT infrastructure.

So far cyber attacks have largely been limited to "criminals and intelligence agencies", according to Gordon, but that doesn't mean terrorist group like al-Qaeda will not resort to attacks carried out over the Internet.

Gordon said that Osama bin Laden has thus far used the Internet for recruitment and propaganda purposes but "there's evidence that he [bin Laden] is interested in cyber warfare and has some expertise."

Tomorrow will mark the tenth anniversary of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. According to Gordon, most Americans have a "pre-1993 understanding" of Net security risks.

"People think that a digital February 26 is unlikely much less a 9/11-style attack but that view is wrong," Gordon said. "The security of cyberspace matters and an attack is likely."

In response, the industry needs to make personal cyber security easier.

Gordon told delegates how he spent a fruitless weekend trying to set up a secure Wi-Fi network. Even after hours on the phone with a vendor the task proved beyond Gordon, who was only able to (eventually) set up a secure system by applying undocumented techniques.

"The industry needs to make it much easier to employ solid security" if it expects people to heed its security advice, he said. ®

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