) -- U.S. firms must look beyond the headlines to see the cyber threats lurking within their own businesses, according to
, who warns that sloppy security is leaving the door open for hackers.
The White House IT guru recently sat down with
in Washington to discuss his top priorities at a time when cyber attacks are grabbing the media's attention.
"Whether or not we have lost
for a few hours is challenging for the country, but it doesn't keep me up at night," Chopra said. "What keeps me awake at night would be an attack on our critical private sector infrastructure -- the health care sector, the banking sector, the energy sector."
America's CTO Sees Rosy Tech Future
As America's first-ever federal CTO, Chopra is working closely with Silicon Valley to boost areas such as broadband, health care, and education, as well as supporting the president's cyber-security efforts. With criminals and rogue states a constant threat to American IT infrastructure, Obama's tech team certainly has its work cut out.
High-profile Web sites in the U.S. and South Korea, for example, were recently
in an audacious
, highlighting the threat still posed by hackers and viruses.
The denial-of-service attack attempted to bring down the likes of the
New York Stock Exchange
and White House Web sites by bombarding them with requests from more than 100,000 infected computers dotted around the globe.
Although he acknowledged the risk posed by this type of threat, Chopra warned that one of the biggest dangers for U.S. companies is their own lax security.
"I am not sure that it will be a denial of service attack -- as much as it will be sloppy software implementation that has left holes for hacking," he told
, adding that companies also need to protect against disgruntled workers. "The threats to me are broader than what gets visibility in the news today."
There have already been some high-profile victims of hacking and cyber-scams. Earlier this year, for example,
found unauthorized code on some of its servers, putting more than half a million customers' personal data at risk. In 2007 retail giant
suffered what was described as the world's largest hacking incident, potentially affecting tens of millions of people.
It is not just rogue techies, however, that firms need to be careful of when it comes to cyber security. Consumer data broker
, now part of
, hit the headlines in 2005 when it gave database access to criminals posing as customers.
Securing government and private sector data is a top priority for the Obama administration, which recently unveiled its cyber-security
The surprise departure of acting cyber-security czar Melissa Hathaway earlier this month, however, underlined the challenges facing the White House.
Reportedly frustrated with the pace of Obama's cyber-security agenda, Hathaway's resignation nonetheless shocked many in the tech sector. The former Bush administration official was seen as a top candidate for the job of
and had already made her presence felt. Earlier this year, for example, Hathaway completed a cyber security review for the White House, which formed the basis of Obama's tech security strategy.
Chopra, however, says that the government's
are proceeding apace, despite Hathaway's departure.
"It will continue to drive fast and furious," he said. "We hope to have the president's naming of a cyber-coordinator soon, but I don't anticipate us skipping a beat."
This is good news for a
of Silicon Valley, where tech firms are already rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a security spending spree.
Companies such as
to reap the
of the government's cyber-security push.
McAfee, which is one of TheStreet.com's
picks for 2009, is already
for increased government spending, both in the U.S. and overseas.
"With President Obama coming out and saying 'hey, this is a priority,' we're going to protect our infrastructure, it is creating awareness," said Dave DeWalt, the McAfee CEO, during the company's recent
earnings call. "While the economy is not that great for IT or for anybody in general, security seems to be a very high
Reported by James Rogers in Washington