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Does the Net need anti-terrorist protection?

An advisory group calls on Congress to create a panel to protect against potential attacks, terrorist or otherwise, on the Internet's infrastructure.

An anti-terrorism advisory group called on Congress this week to create a panel to protect against potential attacks on the Internet's infrastructure.

Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, chairman of the advisory group known as the Gilmore Commission, outlined recommendations to the House Committee on Science in a hearing Wednesday. The proposal asks for the establishment of a cybersecurity panel, with representatives from 23 federal agencies, to address terrorist threats to computer systems in the wake of last month's suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

"Whether the threat manifests itself in the form of a physical attack against computer hardware and real property that houses critical portions of the nation's Internet backbone, or in the form of a cyberattack against computer software and the Internet controls, America's cyberspace needs protection," Gilmore said in a statement.

The call to action is one of many that lawmakers are making as security takes precedence in an increasingly cautious America. Because many vital U.S. systems--including the electric power grid, railways and stock exchanges--rely on computer networks, many lawmakers fear terrorists may aim at these networks.

The Gilmore Commission recommendations were made to Congress shortly before the House closed its offices Wednesday to take an environmental survey under the threat of exposure to anthrax.

"What the recent anthrax attacks and the attacks of Sept. 11 have in common is that they turn our own basic systems of daily connections against us--in those cases, our postal system and our transportation system," Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the Committee on Science, said in a statement. "Turning our computer systems against us would seem to be a logical extension of that mode of operation."

He said Wednesday that the committee is developing legislation to shore up Internet security. That hearing marked the committee's second meeting to examine the vulnerability of the United States' computer infrastructure.

Last week, Richard Clarke, the newly appointed presidential adviser for cyberspace security, and the General Services Administration called for industry leaders to help develop blueprints for a secure and separate government Internet.

A cybersecurity panel may help address an increase in Internet attacks. The number of Internet attacks reported by companies is expected to double in 2001, according to the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordination Center. The group, which administers the myriad CERTs around the United States, counted nearly 35,000 attacks and probes in the first nine months of this year.

In its proposal, the Gilmore Commission recommended that Congress create an independent advisory board to consult the president and Congress on security strategies and test programs designed to promote Internet security. The committee would also form a group to research, develop and test ways to enhance cybersecurity.

The Gilmore Commission has released two reports on the threat of terrorism. Its third report will include recommendations made at Wednesday's hearing.