Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Secretary, said that computer-based attacks had the ability to cripple financial institutions and government networks and that the threat posed by cyber-crime is “on a par” with the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“We take threats to the cyber world as seriously as we take threats to the material world,” Mr Chertoff told a gathering of security industry experts in San Francisco.
His remarks came as a report by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 23 per cent of UK businesses had suffered from an attack by malicious software in the past year – more than twice the number that had been the victim of credit card fraud.
Mr Chertoff said that the US Government planned to shift its approach to fighting computer-based crime from what he called “a fundamentally backward-looking architecture” – analyzing attacks as they happened and tracing back to their source – to “an early-warning system”.
He declined to elaborate on how officials would monitor and flag up threats before they materialized – saying the details were classified, but admitted that the new approach presented significant technical challenges.