Although a major terrorist attack against the Internet has yet to happen, businesses should start protecting themselves--and thus, the U.S. economy--against just such an eventuality, said Floyd Kvamme, special technology adviser to President Bush.
"The message is: We are at war," Kvamme said. "And war requires special activities on the part of everyone."
Executives from companies all over the southern Bay Area attended the conference here to hear experts discuss how companies can secure their computers from Internet attack, protect their employees from biological attacks, and use public policy that's being created to help them.
Speaking at the Silicon Valley Technology & Homeland Security Summit, Kvamme said that high-tech companies in the Bay Area need to remember their roots in the defense industry, when Fairchild, Lockheed Martin and Hughes were the big successes.
The implication: The United States needs technology used for defense to secure itself against terrorists.
"The systems we have today are so tightly connected that if we knock out (a central system), then that's an effective attack," said Ron Moritz, a consultant who represented the Justice Department as a delegate to the G-8 Summit on High-Tech Crime.
The participants stressed that security is a relative concept, however.
Computers always have holes, and network protection is never 100 percent, said Rich DeMillo, chief security officer for Hewlett-Packard. "If you want a truly secure system, turn the machine off," he said. "Everything else is an economic trade-off."
DeMillo added that standard technologies would bring the nation closer to more secure systems. He praised the momentum open-source systems have gained.
"Linux becomes a very big part of security," he said. "Cleverness and secrecy seldom work to build up trust."
The experts also warned companies that they have to start thinking about security today.
"We need to be more pro-active," said Frank Huerta, CEO of security software company Recourse Technologies. "Finding yesterday's attack is no longer good enough."