The Internet is buckling under increasing pressure from worms, viruses and other cyberattacks, one of the world's leading anti-virus figures has warned.

Eugene Kaspersky, head of antivirus research at Moscow's Kaspersky Labs, urged governments to act to make the Internet safer and more stable. He was speaking at the giant tech trade show CeBIT, currently being held in Hanover, Germany.

The Internet should be controlled in the same way other public networks, such as electricity and traffic information networks, are controlled, Kaspersky said. Rules for usage of the network should be enforced by Internet police with users licensed to use the 'Net, he said.

"If we want to have a big public network like the Internet in the future, there must be very strict usage rules. If we don't have those, the Internet will just die," Kaspersky said. "The Internet today is like a road without policemen and driving licenses."

Kaspersky warned of a "new era" of global Internet attacks in which antivirus companies won't be able to protect users. The advent of fast-spreading Internet worms has decreased the time vendors have to provide protection to a day or two, according to Kaspersky. Smarter worms will propagate even faster.

"In the future antivirus companies won't be able to deliver protection on time," Kaspersky said. "We have to prepare for a scenario one day this year or next year that will visibly slowdown the global Internet."

Kaspersky could not say when he expects the level of attacks to reach the point that the Internet could topple. "It all depends on the virus writers" and other attackers, he said. What he does know, he said, is that home users will be most affected, followed by businesses. Governments have alternative networks in place, he said.

Business users who want to protect themselves should pay more attention to security, install a fallback network for when the Internet fails and diversify software usage to not depend on software that is the target of attacks, he said.