The White House issued a proposal on Thursday to secure critical U.S. infrastructure and federal computer networks that aims to fend off attackers while assuring the privacy of Internet users.

A legislative proposal from the Obama administration calls for the Department of Homeland Security to formally take over the job of ensuring the federal government's computers are protected, including oversight of intrusion detection and prevention systems.

It would also require that security standards of many government contractors be updated.

The proposal is aimed at attacks from U.S. sources and overseas, including many believed to originate in China.

The White House proposal is expected to give new impetus to a long-running cybersecurity debate in the Congress.

The cybersecurity vulnerabilities in our government and critical infrastructure are a risk to national security, public safety, and economic prosperity, the White House said in a statement. The administration has responded to Congress' call for input on the cybersecurity legislation that our nation needs, and we look forward to engaging with Congress as they move forward on this issue.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid's office has taken the lead in Congress on cybersecurity, putting together bills sponsored by Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller and and Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, chair of the Homeland Security Committee.

An 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 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 personal computers around the world that may have led to the theft of more than $100 million.

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

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Diane Bartz; editing by Philip Barbara