London, Apr.10 : One of America's most senior security officials has said that the threat posed by cyber-crime is "on a par" with the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Secretary, was quoted by The Times as saying that computer-based attacks had the ability to cripple financial institutions and government networks.
"We take threats to the cyber world as seriously as we take threats to the material world," Chertoff told a gathering of security industry experts in San Francisco.
His remarks came as a report by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 23 per cent of UK businesses had suffered from an attack by malicious software in the past year.
Chertoff said that Washington planned to shift its approach to fighting computer-based crime from what he called "a fundamentally backward-looking architecture" - analysing attacks as they happened and tracing back to their source - to "an early-warning system".
He declined to elaborate on how officials would monitor and flag up threats before they materialised - saying the details were classified, but admitted that the new approach presented significant technical challenges.
Chertoff said that there were too many openings in government networks through which cyber-criminals were able to inject malicious software, and that one of the first goals of the new system would be to reduce the number of access points from thousands to about 50.