W A S H I N G T O N, July 21, 2001 -- Hackers commandeered 200,000 computer servers worldwide to attack the White House Web site this week. Quick action deflected the assault.
It came one day before the Bush administration went on the offensive against cyber crime. The attorney general announced the formation of ten new special units to prosecute it.
"New teams will prosecute vigorously those responsible for cyber crime," Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "There are no free passes in cyberspace."
Officials worry that cyber terrorists will shut down vital services, creating chaos by crashing power, banking or telecommunications networks.
"This … has created a major national security problem of the sort that the federal government alone cannot solve," says John Tritak, director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office at the U.S. Department of Commerce. "It must necessarily collaborate with industry on an unprecedented level."
Will Industry Cooperate?
Industry, however, has been a half-hearted collaborator. Last year, 85 percent of big companies and government agencies said they were victims of cyber attacks — and private industry spent $300 billion to fight hackers.
But the government's efforts face continuing distrust from business. Only a third of companies report computer intrusions to authorities.
"They seem to think often — the industry does — that government can't handle the problem and that they, industry themselves, have the better skills," says Frank Cilluffo, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington consulting group.
The administration hopes to convince businesses otherwise.
ABC News has learned President Bush intends to name someone from the private sector as vice chairman of a new White House board that will coordinate the government's efforts to combat cyber terrorism.
That would move closer to what security experts want — a central emergency response team, combining industry's know-how with government's muscle.
"They want that single phone number equivalent to 911, … one phone number to call in a time of crisis," Cilluffo says.
Industry is now taking computer attacks more seriously, devoting people and money to the problem. Their main motivation, though, remains self-protection — not the national security threat the government fears.