Taking on IT Security

Federal plan calls for public-private partnerships, no government oversight.

The Federal Governments top information security officials are finalizing a strategy that they hope will provide immediate and long-term solutions to the security problems plaguing the nations networks.

The multifaceted plan would require cooperation from private industry and academia but would not involve any real government oversight.

The combination of public-private partnerships and market pressure on software vendors is the right approach to boosting the security of the countrys networks, according to Howard Schmidt, vice chairman of President Bushs Critical Infrastructure Protection Board.

"The governments role is bringing people to the table and encouraging them to talk and adopt best practices," said Schmidt last week at the Defending Against Information Warfare conference here. "The intention is to avoid regulation. We think and believe we can do this without regulation."

But not everyone agrees with the governments hands-off approach.

"We need to have some kind of legislation," said Peggy Weigle, CEO of Sanctum Inc., a security vendor based in Santa Clara, Calif. "Security today has just simply not been a core value. We need a little more of a push from the government along with some guidelines."

Alan Kirby, vice president of engineering at Okena Inc., in Waltham, Mass., suggested the government could best serve industry and citizens by setting a good example. "The government should act as a moral authority to encourage the use of better software engineering practices," Kirby said.

The CIPBs strategy, which will be delivered to the president this summer, is three-pronged and will start with an emphasis on the need for more education for information security professionals. As such, it will outline a plan for a scholarship program that would send students to college to study security and then bring them back into government service for a period of years. After their government service, scholarship recipients could move to the private sector to apply their knowledge or stay with the government, Schmidt said.

"Id like to emphasize the importance of people and processes and not just technology in this equation," said Robert Gerber, chief of the analysis and warning section of the National Infrastructure Protection Council, at the conference. "The threat has never been greater, and the pace at which new technology comes into the networks makes it difficult to keep pace."

A second facet of the plan is an early warning and analysis system that would provide advance intelligence on security events such as the Code Red worm or widespread network intrusion attempts. Tentatively dubbed the Cyber Warning and Information Network, the system ideally would give the government data that it could then share with authorities in other countries to help choke off virus and worm outbreaks.

The third part of the plan is a training and research tool dubbed the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center. The center would give government and private-sector security officials a chance to participate in simulated attack scenarios, much like the Red Team exercises that the military conducts with its troops.

The goal is to prepare for new and evolving security threats before they appear on the Internet, Schmidt said.

Many software vendors and industry observers believe that it is only a matter of time before the government steps in to regulate the security and reliability of software products. Microsoft Corp. officials have said publicly that they consider such action inevitable.

Schmidt, one of the main architects of the governments strategy, was Microsofts chief security officer until January, when he left to join the CIPB.