The US government could gain powers to enforce cyber-security standards in private companies for the first time under new laws designed to dramatically step-up the US cyber-defences.
Legislation expected to be introduced in the US Senate today will extend the US government's cyber-security programme from military networks to private systems used to control critical infrastructure such as electricity and water, The Washington Post reports.
The legislation calls for the appointment of a White House cyber-security "czar" with the authority to shut down both government and private computer networks during a cyber-attack, according to officials interviewed by the paper.
The news comes following disclosures of the extent of cyber-espionage activities of Chinese hackers against western governments.
Research by a Canadian security group has revealed that the Chinese operation, dubbed GhostNet, infiltrated more than 1,000 computers in more than 100 countries.
US Intelligence officials have warned that a major attack on private computer networks could compromise systems used by banks, utilities and transport networks, causing social and economic panic.
The US has begun a 60 day review of its defences against cyber-attacks.