In the 1976 movie "Network," a television anchorman famously implores his viewers to yell, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Yesterday, in more measured tones, a high-powered business lobby said just that about computer security on the network of all networks, the Internet.
The Business Roundtable -- which includes the chief executives of many of the nation's largest "old economy" corporations -- launched a public relations blitz that takes the software industry to task for developing products that are continuously vulnerable to hackers and virus writers.
"Most of the significant cyber-incidents that have harmed American business and consumers over the past several years have had at their root cause defective and readily exploitable software code," the group said in a written statement of principles on what should guide cyber-security policy. "Most software development processes used today do not incorporate effective tests, checks or safeguards to detect those . . . defects that result in product vulnerabilities."
When the generally low-key CEOs of companies such as Alcoa and General Motors place ads in the Wall Street Journal and magazines to take a swipe at the technologists upon whom they are so dependent, you know things have reached a critical stage.
Like small and large businesses everywhere, those companies are spending millions of dollars a year patching security hole after security hole in a desperate attempt to ward off crashes and data theft. Too often, it's too late.
For many companies, those are not simply dollars sliced off the bottom line. They divert scarce resources from developing new technologies that companies need to compete in a fast-moving, high-tech world.
The venerable Business Roundtable, with 150 members, was careful to couch its campaign as a multi-pronged approach to get the attention of all corporate executives and users as well as the software industry.
C. Michael Armstrong, chairman of Comcast Corp. and head of the Roundtable's security task force, said in an interview that even the best-made software will be vulnerable if network operators or users fail to employ stringent safety measures.
To that end, the group urges greater attention by corporate boards to cyber-security at their companies, a goal also pushed by task forces working with the Department of Homeland Security to strengthen corporate and government networks.
As a result, the report was welcomed by some trade groups whose members include software companies.