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Boosting Cyber Security

American leaders are stepping up measures to fend off cyber attacks, after more and more critical data and infrastructure come under threat. The authorities want private companies to work together to stop the hackers.

Speaking at a cyber summit at Stanford University, President Barack Obama called on corporate leaders to proactively report damage inflicted by cyber-attacks.

"There is only one way to defend America from these cyber threats and that is through government and industry working together, sharing appropriate information," he said Feb. 14.

Most businesses have refrained from reporting because of privacy concerns on behalf of their clients. But the proliferation of attacks on the private sector has increased fivefold since 2009, sparking a sense of urgency within the U.S. government.

Specialists are beginning to recognize the importance of sharing information. Representatives of computer security firms that protect corporations' networks get together in Washington regularly to discuss the issue. They exchange the latest data on malicious software used for cyber attacks and develop technologies to remove them.

Brian Bartholomew, lead tech analyst at INSIGHT Partners, attended the latest conference. His company monitors its clients' networks 24 hours a day. It was one of 10 firms last year that joined in a first-of-its-kind experiment to cooperate to counter cyber attacks. This type of coordination is vital to counter hacker groups, such as one called "Axiom," according to Bartholomew.

"This group in particular is extremely sophisticated. They're very good at what they do," he says. "This group was so widespread, and they had such a far reach that we're still actually.... finding new victims every day on this."

Axiom is a mystery to security specialists, although it is thought to be based in China and has exceedingly advanced technologies.

The group has apparently developed nine types of identified malicious software. It slips through the security firms' defenses and penetrates their networks.

When companies try to fight back on their own, they face a limited choice of countermeasures. Things such as confidential information and trade secrets are often stolen.

Bartholomew's company began to realize the power of collaboration, so it and its partners started to work together on developing countermeasure software.

As a result, they were able to prevent damage in 43,000 cases. "We got together and said, 'What if we combine forces here and shared information between us? We could really put a dent in this group,'" he says.

The Obama administration recognizes that cyber threats will continue to grow. The White House believes it is essential to put in place the proper mechanisms now to deal with this challenge in the future.

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