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The White House Thursday was expected to unveil a major cybersecurity proposal aimed at protecting critical U.S. infrastructure from computer attacks including many believed to originate in China.

The White House proposal would give new impetus to a long-running cybersecurity debate in the U.S. Congress, where lawmakers have been working on various pieces of legislation, including one circulated in 2010 that would give President Barack Obama emergency powers to combat hackers.

"Our nation cannot fully defend against these threats unless certain parts of cybersecurity law are updated," an administration official said.

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"Our proposal strikes a critical balance between strengthening security, preserving privacy and civil liberties protections, and fostering continued economic growth."

The administration official said the White House would like Congress to enact a cybersecurity bill this year, after a broad discussion including representatives from industry, privacy advocates and the wider community.

Computer hackers are responsible for attacks on millions of computers, putting in jeopardy critical systems operated by the U.S. government, electrical utilities and financial companies.

Senate Democrats introduced new legislation in February after reports of hack attacks on computer networks at Nasdaq OMX Group and five multinational oil and gas companies.

In April, U.S. authorities shut down a ring that used malicious software to take control of more than 2 million PCs around the world that may have led to the theft of more than $100 million.

"By introducing the first major cybersecurity legislative proposal for any administration, we are demonstrating President Obama's commitment to addressing complex and systemic national vulnerabilities that place the American people and economy at risk," the official said.

The administration official said the White House proposal was the result of 2-1/2 years of work.

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