Former CIA Director George J. Tenet yesterday called for new security measures to guard against attacks on the United States that use the Internet, which he called "a potential Achilles' heel."
"I know that these actions will be controversial in this age when we still think the Internet is a free and open society with no control or accountability," he told an information-technology security conference in Washington, "but ultimately the Wild West must give way to governance and control."
The former CIA director said telecommunications -- and specifically the Internet -- are a back door through which terrorists and other enemies of the United States could attack the country, even though great strides have been made in securing the physical infrastructure.
The Internet "represents a potential Achilles' heel for our financial stability and physical security if the networks we are creating are not protected," Mr. Tenet said.
He said known adversaries, including "intelligence services, military organizations and non-state actors," are researching information attacks against the United States.
Within the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security has the lead role in protecting the Internet from terrorism. But the department's head of cyber-security recently quit amid reports that he had clashed with his superiors.
Mr. Tenet, who retired in July as director of the CIA after seven years, warned that al Qaeda remains a sophisticated group, even though its first-tier leadership largely has been destroyed.
It is "undoubtedly mapping vulnerabilities and weaknesses in our telecommunications networks," he said.
Mr. Tenet pointed out that the modernization of key industries in the United States is making them more vulnerable by connecting them with an Internet that is open to attack.
The way the Internet was built might be part of the problem, he said. Its open architecture allows Web surfing, but that openness makes the system vulnerable, Mr. Tenet said.
Access to networks like the World Wide Web might need to be limited to those who can show they take security seriously, he said.
Mr. Tenet called for industry to lead the way by "establishing and enforcing" security standards. Products need to be delivered to government and private-sector customers "with a new level of security and risk management already built in."
The national press, including United Press International (UPI), were excluded from yesterday's event, at Mr. Tenet's request, organizers said.
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