A massive electronic network linking more than 60,000 computers remains vulnerable to potentially crippling attack by computer "viruses," the General Accounting Office said Thursday.
The GAO, an investigative arm of Congress, said the White House science adviser should oversee efforts to help protect the network, Internet, from sabotage.
In a report, the agency said lax security procedures on Internet contributed to the severity of problems that resulted when a software virus "infected" the system last November, crippling thousands of computers.
Internet, the main computer network used by the U.S. research community, is composed of more than 500 national, regional and local networks nationwide and overseas handling unclassified information. Two of the largest component networks are sponsored by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.
The GAO report was released at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and finance.
Jack L. Brock Jr., director of the GAO's government information and financial management division, told the panel that since the virus attack last fall, security has been strengthened on many computers connected to Internet.
However, "we still feel that the lack of central control (over security) . . . remains a problem," he testified.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the subcommittee, asked Brock whether Internet was still vulnerable to computer viruses and other types of software sabotage.
The GAO official responded: "Sure. . . . No open system can ever be completely secure."
Computer viruses are generally small strings of computer codes that can infiltrate software programs and replicate themselves thousands of times, causing computer systems to "crash." In some cases, they can surreptitiously alter or destroy computer data.
Also testifying at the hearing was John Landry, appearing on behalf of ADAPSO, the Computer Software and Services Industry Assn.