WASHINGTON - America's critical computer networks are so vulnerable to attack that it should deter U.S. leaders from going to war with other nations, a former top U.S. cybersecurity official said Monday.
Richard Clarke, a top adviser to three presidents, joined a number of U.S. military and civilian experts in offering a dire assessment of America's cybersecurity at a conference, saying the country simply can't protect its critical networks.
Clarke said that if he was advising the president, he would warn against attacking other countries because so many of them - including China, North Korea, Iran and Russia - could retaliate by launching devastating cyberattacks that could destroy power grids, banking networks or transportation systems.
The U.S. military, he said, is entirely dependent on computer systems and could end up in a future conflict in which troops trot out onto a battlefield "and nothing works."
Clarke said that a good national-security adviser would tell the president that the U.S. might be able to blow up a nuclear plant somewhere, or a terrorist-training center somewhere, but that a number of countries could strike back with a cyberattack.
"The entire us economic system could be crashed in retaliation ... because we can't defend it today," he said.
"I really don't know to what extent the weapon systems that have been developed over the last 10 years have been penetrated, to what extent the chips are compromised, to what extent the code is compromised.
"I can't assure you that as you go to war with a cybersecurity-conscious, cybersecurity-capable enemy that any of our stuff is going to work."
Clarke, along with Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads both the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, told the conference crowd that the U.S. needs to do a better job of eliminating network vulnerabilities and more aggressively seek out malware or viruses in American corporate, military and government systems.
But Clarke was more strident about pushing for broader government regulations to enforce such improvements, despite political reluctance.
The problems, he said, will not be fixed unless the government gets more involved.
He added that the U.S. also needs to make it clear to countries such as China that efforts to use computer-based attacks to steal high-tech American data will be punished.
by Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press Nov. 8, 2011 12:00 AM
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