In recent years, the United States has come to rely so heavily on computers in every area of life that possible computer malfunctions, sabotage or theft pose major risks to society. Efforts to provide better security have not kept up with the explosive growth in computer use.

A report issued redently by a committee of the National Research Council concluded that America has been lucky in avoiding a major computer disaster and warns that such luck may soon run out.While no systematic attempt to subvert critical computing systems has occurred, most systems are vulnerable. Computer criminals can steal more money and do it easier than robbing banks at gunpoint. Failures in computer safety, security and reliability appear to be growing, both in number and severity.

The committee urged that a national Information Security Foundation be created and paid for by member subscriptions and fees. Such a foundation could do security evaluations, promote the latest technology, and perform other services.

The importance of such an organization might be emphasized by establishing it through congressional charter, the committee urged.

Simply leaving the issue up to the marketplace and individual companies does not appear to work well enough or fast enough to keep up with the growth in threats to computer systems. Computer security is an unending battle in which problems keep multiplying faster than the answers for them.

A privately-funded foundation on a national basis seems like a good idea. European nations already are unitedly moving in that direction. If the United States fails to keep up, it will be increasingly difficult to sell American equipment and software on the global market.

America can't afford to stint on efforts to make sure that computers and the software that runs them are more secure, trustworthy and less vulnerable than at present. Anything less is asking for trouble.