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RSA A computer security expert has called on the United States government to train the nation's youth in offensive and defensive cyber technologies so the country is less vulnerable to attacks on its critical infrastructure.

"We need to really encourage young people, high school kids, college students, to embrace cyber security as a field," said Ed Skoudis, founder and senior security consultant for InGuardians. "I'd like to see the United States from a policy perspective engage in...sponsoring hacking challenges to not make it seem like it's an evil thing. Set summer camps to learn more about offensive and defensive technologies and have mentor-ship and sponsorship."

Countries including China and South Korea already sponsor hacking challenges that are designed to identify kids with computer skills, Skoudis said. He said the push in this country should draw lessons from the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik missile. The US responded by plowing huge resources in to training for science and engineering.

Skoudis's comments came during a panel on Thursday at the RSA security conference that drew parallels between the cold war and cyber threats the US faces from nation states, terrorist groups, and criminal hacker gangs. Although a full-blown war involving US networks has yet to happen, smaller skirmishes are already under way, the panelists said.

"It's not about the destruction of physical assets," said Ed Giorgio, president and co-founder of Ponte Technologies and a member of a commission that spent 18 months drafting recommendations for the US's 44th president to shore up its critical infrastructure. "It's about espionage and gaining some sort of information advantage, and frankly I don't see the right response."

The comments come amid multiple reports that networks critical to US national security have already been breached. Last year, the CIO for the Department of Defense conceded that an intrusion on the agency's computers resulted in the theft of an "amazing amount of data" that continued to put the country at risk. Other breaches have involved the US power grid, and Pentagon plans for one of its top fighter jets.

During a speech Wednesday at the RSA conference, Melissa Hathaway, acting senior director for cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security councils, said the risk was palpable.

"I worry about these questions every night," she said during a talk that was short on specifics and long on platitudes. "They infiltrate my dreams."

The Obama administration is expected to announce a comprehensive plan for responding to the threat in the next week or so.

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