Losing the internet for a month could cost Europe and the US at least €150bn in lost business, according to a report on national security in the 21st century.
The report, Shared Responsibilities, from the left-leaning Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank, today calls for greater international and interagency cooperation to improve the communications infrastructure's resilience to attack and failure.
As society comes to depend more and more on communications networks, so the risk of failure increases, according to the report, which was written by lords Paddy Ashdown and George Robertson.
It said the government should create the cyber equivalent of Neighbourhood Watch, where community residents volunteer to help protect the neighbourhood against criminals.
Much of the technical community is presently trying to protect the internet against unwarranted intrusion by the state, it said. "How much better if the state were to earn their trust and recruit their help towards achieving shared goals," it said.
The report comes less than a week after the government announced plans to hire and train "white hat hackers" to search and destroy cyber spies and criminals. It also proposed to increase diplomatic and interagency cooperation to facilitate law enforcement in cyberspace.
The IPPR described the government's moves as "too timid, slow and complacent". Speaking ahead of the government's announcement, the IPPR's deputy commissioner on national security, Ian Kearns, said, "The government has not gone far enough [on cybersecurity] and on energy security. The government is still being far too complacent."
The IPPR said that in addition to creating an internet Neighbourhood Watch, the government should increase its political and financial support for global action to enhance cybersecurity. Concerted action is needed to support and build on the work of the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), it said.
The government should also sponsor a programme to create reliable and secure standard software programs such as simple operating systems, database management systems and graphical user interfaces.
"These could form the secure core for a wide range of systems within the critical national infrastructure and associated services," it said.