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Do we need a second Internet?

Speaking at SafeNet 2000, a Clinton advisor calls for a second, more secure Internet for critical communications and commerce. The downside? No anonymity

Speaking to more than 100 security and privacy experts, President Clinton's top advisor on cybersecurity said a new, secure Internet is needed to insure that the country is not hurt by an attack from cyberspace.

"This idea may be ridiculed and is out there... but we need to bifurcate cyberspace: we need to have a secure zone in cyberspace and then we can leave the rest of it as it is today," said Richard Clarke, the National Security Council's national coordinator for security, counterterrorism, and infrastructure protection.

The secure Internet should have the equivalent of armed guards at the doors and no one would be anonymous, he added. "In this zone, privacy and security could be achieved, as long as there is no anonymity."

Clarke made the statements after noting that experts are becoming increasingly worried about a disruption in cyberspace affecting critical parts of the US national infrastructure, and stressed that the idea is one that he is advocating and is not part of the current administration's policies.

"There is a new electronics regime in our country and spreading all over the world," he said. "Everything depends now on IT networks. Much of our national security has been made part of the cloud of IT networks."

Unfortunately, the networks through which much of the United States' critical information passes are mingled with insecure, public networks, he said.

"Because no one designed the Internet, we did not design in security. [Network attackers] can steal out electronic data, and the can destroy and disrupt our systems."

While many have derided the notion of an electronic Pearl Harbour or a cyber Exxon Valdez as scare tactics, Clarke believes that either could happen.

"While it may be improbable that cyberspace be seriously disrupted, or that a war in cyberspace can occur, the improbable happens -- as it did in our election," he said.

In Clarke's vision of the future, information technology converges:

  • All communications will travel over the Internet

  • Mobile phones, PDAs, pagers, and mobile PCs will merge into a single device

  • The Net's basic foundations -- cables, satellites, and wireless -- will merge together.

Experts should focus on securing that future network, and not spend all their efforts on applying bandages to the present hodgepodge that is the Internet, he said.

"We have to ask whether we should fix the system of the year 2000 or the system of the year 2004," he said.

Clarke also delivered an update on the National Plan for Critical Infrastructure Protection -- the document outlining what the US needs to do to secure its infrastructure from cyberattack. The Clinton administration released the plan at the beginning of this year.

The adviser called for a national chief information officer for the US who would be ultimately responsible for defending the computer and communications networks upon which the country relies.

Clarke also believed that an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act -- under which the public may sue to open up non-classified government records -- is necessary in order to spur companies into releasing data on attacks against them.

The National Security Council advisor said that president Clinton was to announce on Friday an ROTC-like program to train network-security specialists to protect the government's data.

Called CyberCorps, the program will provide up to $25,000 each year as a scholarship for qualified candidates, who will then owe a year of service for each year of the scholarship. The program had been outlined in the National Plan.

It's unknown how many scholarships will be provided in the initial year of the program, but Clarke did say that the first scholarships would be awarded to students entering colleges in September 2001.

Clinton was expected to make the announcement during a speech at the University of Nebraska.

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