The Bush administration is moving aggressively on cybersecurity, calling for a closed IP network for government agencies and appointing a new presidential special adviser for critical infrastructure protection.
The General Services Administration last week requested information from network vendors interested in building a protected government network, dubbed Govnet.
"Govnet will be a private Internet Protocol network shared by government agencies and other authorized users only," the request for information said. "Govnet will provide connectivity among users to a defined set of service delivery points."
The network would be totally separate from the public Internet or other public or private networks. It would include voice, conferencing and multicast services. The GSA is asking for a network that "will be immune from malicious service and/or functional disruptions to which the shared public networks are vulnerable" and be impervious to malicious code from any external network.
Its a tall order, but one that, if designed and operated correctly, is a good idea, said Bruce Schneier, chief technical officer of Counterpane Internet Security. "If you can physically separate the attacker from the target, you can stop him."
The key is to build a separate network from the fiber up, with dedicated routers. But such a network is only as secure as the people using it. The military and spy agencies have closed networks, but those havent always proven impervious, Schneier said.
"It took the Melissa virus 24 hours to jump from the Internet to the closed military network," Schneier said. The breach probably occurred when someone switched an infected machine from the open Net to the secure system, he added.
"We do think it will work," said a National Security Council official who asked not to be named. The official said the network, when built, will be used for critical agency traffic and that specific users had not yet been established.
Plans for Govnet were discussed by the rising figure in the Bush administrations federal network security pantheon, Richard Clarke.
Just one day after former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge started his cabinet-level job as head of Homeland Security, he announced that Clarke will serve as special adviser to the president for cyberspace security.
Calling the new position "vitally important," Ridge said Clarke will also serve as chairman of a governmentwide board that will coordinate the protection of critical infrastructure systems.
The government is clearly on a fast track. Proposals are due to the GSA by Nov. 24.