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White House to Unveil Initiative to Fight Computer Viruse

Internet-service providers and financial-services companies would share data about networks of infected computers known as botnets under a pilot cybersecurity program to be unveiled today by the Obama administration.

The White House will also announce a voluntary set of Internet-industry principles to prevent and detect botnets and a consumer-education campaign about the computer viruses, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement.

Botnets are networks of infected computers that can be used for malicious purposes, such as generating spam or flooding corporate or government systems with unwanted traffic that can cripple websites. To build a botnet, hackers send out programs, often disguised as links or hidden in e-mail attachments, that infect a computer when opened.

The Homeland Security and Commerce departments in September sought comments on a voluntary industry program, saying that botnets have emerged as an increasing threat during the past several years.

Howard Schmidt, the White House cybersecurity coordinator, and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will take part in today’s event, according to a White House advisory.

President Barack Obama’s administration opposed a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last month that encourages the government and companies to voluntarily share information on cyber threats, saying the measure doesn’t do enough to protect the nation’s critical systems from cyber attacks and would erode privacy safeguards for consumer information.

Cybersecurity Bills
The push for comprehensive cybersecurity legislation has intensified following attacks last year on companies including New York-based Citigroup Inc. (C) (C), the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, and Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) (LMT), the world’s largest defense company.

The White House supports a bill sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, that would put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of regulating cybersecurity of the nation’s vital systems such as power grids and transportation networks.

The House bill is H.R. 3523. The Lieberman bill is S. 2105.