Critics Slam Task Force Cyber Plans

The National Cyber Security Partnership is under fire for its close ties to vendors and its task forces' pace in promoting secure software.

The release of the first set of recommendations from two task forces formed last year at the National Cyber Security Summit has spurred a fresh round of criticism from security experts who say the governments reliance on vendors is stifling progress.

The recommendations were produced by the Awareness for Home Users and Small Businesses and the Cyber Security Early Warning task forces, two of five such groups established at the summit in December and known collectively as the National Cyber Security Partnership, or NCSP. Stacked with security and software industry executives and government representatives, the task forces are meant to tackle several big issues, including promoting secure software, providing corporate governance and developing guidelines for users to improve security.

Specifically, for small businesses, the Awareness task force has developed a guidebook listing simple security tips and advice. Two insurance companies have also agreed to provide insurance credits to small businesses that implement the steps in the guidebook. For enterprises, the group plans to hold regional summits for CEOs to meet with officials from the Department of Homeland Security. It will also start a direct-mail campaign this summer to give high-level executives information on network security.

The NCSP also plans to start this fall a three-year national ad campaign centered on the top 10 security tips developed as part of the Stay Safe Online effort sponsored by the National Cyber Security Alliance, a group of technology vendors and government agencies. The guidelines advise the use of anti-virus software and the installation of security patches.

Critics say that this kind of information is common sense and that the task forces should have gone beyond such issues. "The average user will never become the kind of expert needed to protect themselves against the attacks being launched today. The dire situation is caused almost entirely by software vendors who have completely failed to meet their responsibilities to the nation and to their customers," said Alan Paller, director of research at The SANS Institute, based in Bethesda, Md. "In essence, the vendors are promoting a blame-the-user strategy because they cannot or will not build comprehensive security solutions."

Next page: Task force members defend efforts.