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'We're all at risk' of attack, cyber chief says

Homeland Security official urges private industry and government cooperation to make cybersecurity a priority.

NEW YORK -- Private industry and governments need to make cyber security a priority, no matter what the cost, in order to defeat hackers and terrorists and to keep operations running during a crisis, a federal official said here Tuesday.

Private industry owns and operates more than 85 percent of the country's critical infrastructures. "That means the federal government cannot address these cyber threats alone," said Greg Garcia, the Homeland Security assistant secretary who heads the national cyber-security division.

Garcia addressed the New York City Metro InfraGard Alliance blocks from the World Trade Center site attacked by terrorists Sept. 11, 2001. InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI, local law enforcement and the private sector aimed at protecting critical infrastructures, including technology systems.

"You all know our adversaries will stop at nothing to destroy the infrastructures we all work so hard to protect. ... We're all at risk, we're all responsible. and there's much more we have to do to protect our critical systems," Garcia said. "New York is the world's financial nucleus. ... As Wall Street goes, so does the rest of the economy."

About $5.5 trillion to $6 trillion runs through the U.S. financial system each day, including paycheck delivery and withdrawals from automatic teller machines. Still, Garcia said, large household-name companies are leaving their networks exposed to infiltration and data theft.

The federal government relies heavily on organizations like InfraGard and information-sharing and analysis centers for specific economic sectors to force industry to take cyber precautions. He said that partnership is particularly important given that hackers are becoming more sophisticated, and that malicious codes and software are now sold cheaply over the Internet.

Garcia said there is a $100 billion market for cyber crime -- more than the illegal drug market. From fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2007, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team handled more than 37,000 incidents, compared with about 24,000 in fiscal 2006.

"Unfortunately, none of this is going to dissipate if we don't have the same level of coordination and organization our adversaries have against us," Garcia said.

On the government side, the Homeland Security Department's Einstein network monitors systems for abnormalities or intrusions and circulates threat information within hours. Einstein is used by 13 agencies, but Garcia wants all to subscribe.

"There's strength in numbers," the assistant secretary said. "Just like beat cops, out-of-the-ordinary events or activities can tip off cyber responders to potential trouble."

Industry also needs to consider physical threats that could affect networks, such as a pandemic flu outbreak, Garcia said. Companies must ensure that their businesses can operate via telecommuting during a crisis and that their networks don't become bottlenecked, he said. They should boost network security ahead of time to ensure continuity of operations.

If the businesses don't do this, Garcia said, "our economy -- in fact, our very way of life -- is going to be at stake."

Garcia toured the city's wireless network operations and emergency management centers, and spoke with city leaders about how they are managing and securing communications systems designed to operate across jurisdictions.

In March, the department will conduct an exercise to practice coordinated responses to simulated strings of cyber attacks affecting all levels of government and industry.