Barack Obama lifted cyber-security high up his administration’s agenda on Friday as he promised shortly to appoint a White House co-ordinator to oversee policy and responses to threats to government and private communications networks.

The US president cited an industry report that put losses from cybercrime – including industrial espionage and identity theft – at $1,000bn, saying the growing dependence on electronic banking and commerce made improved security both a matter of economic necessity and vital to national defence.

“Our defence and military networks are under constant attack,” he said. “Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups have spoken of their desire to unleash a cyberattack on our country – attacks that are harder to detect and harder to defend against.”

Releasing a review of federal policy on cyber-security, Mr Obama said the government had been hamstrung by the issue’s complexity and turf wars among agencies. “We’ve failed to invest in the security of our digital infrastructure. From now on …the networks and computers we depend on every day will be treated as they should be: as a strategic national asset.”

Security experts were delighted to see a president publicly address what has been a growing concern for a decade. “This is something we have been trying to educate on,” said David DeWalt, chief executive of McAfee, the antivirus software company.

“When you see an urgency to move set by the president of the US with vigour and passion, things will get done.”

John Stewart, chief security officer at Cisco Systems, the networking company, said: “There will be progress with measurement and accountability. It’s a recipe for success, but it’s not a guarantee of success.”

The co-ordinator will not have budgetary authority, and will not report directly to the president. But the person will serve on both the National Security Staff and the National Economic Council. However, more important than the official reporting lines is Mr Obama’s unprecedented pledge of personal responsibility.

Acknowledging civil liberties concerns, he vowed that the new effort would not include monitoring of private internet communications. And he said he was committed to network neutrality, which ensures that all net traffic is treated the same.

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