U.S. Government Plans Cyberalert System

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is set to unveil a cyberalert system that could include a way for businesses and individuals to report security issues and Internet threats.

Details of the system will be outlined by Amit Yoran, the department’s director of the National Cyber Security Division.

Yoran recently visited Silicon Valley to talk with companies about cybersecurity attacks. Results of those talks, coupled with other recent government initiatives in the area, should make the cyberalert system an ambitious public-private partnership, if it succeeds.

Education or Enforcement?

One detail that will be interesting to note, Yankee Group analyst Eric Ogren said, is how the government plans to handle user education.

Ogren told the E-Commerce Times that when security threats like worms and viruses crop up, he would prefer to see better education rather than promises of enforcement.

“Consumers need to be educated,” he said. “People at a company are okay, because there’s an IT guy to handle the security, but I worry about people like my mother who don’t know any better when they’re opening infected e-mails.”

If the cyberalert plan does include a healthy does of education, Ogren noted, it will go a long way toward stopping security problems more quickly.

Governmental Role

It is possible that the plan could include elements of the color-coded scheme that is used to warn citizens and law enforcement officials about terrorist threats. However, Ogren said he doubts whether this system would actually be of benefit.

“This rainbow stuff is a waste of time and energy,” he said. “If there’s another virus, you need to know what to do and where to get help. You won’t care if we’re at level orange or yellow.”

He also questioned whether the government would be the best place for a new security clearinghouse.

“I don’t see threat collection as the government’s role,” he said. “They’ll never be as expert on viruses and worms as Symantec or Network Associates or the other security firms, so I don’t see how the government becoming a clearinghouse could add any value.”

Threat Matrix

Coming just two days after the discovery of the MyDoom/Novarg worm, the DHS announcement is the latest step toward an early warning system for electronic threats.

Faced with the continuing specter of terrorism, the government has been trying to find an easy way to collect reports of Internet security issues.

Two months ago, DHS officials, including Secretary Tom Ridge, met with technology industry experts at the National Cyber Security Summit. The meetings, which were the result of a policy blueprint released by the government almost a year ago, included individuals from the Business Software Alliance, the Information Technology Association of America, the TechNet Lobbying Group and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Larger Effort

Beyond reaching out to the technology industry, the government also has tried to appeal to private citizens to be more vigilant about Internet security.

Last March, soon after President Bush issued the ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face military action, the DHS asked U.S. residents to report any suspicious cybersecurity incidents or intrusions as part of a nationwide action plan code-named Operation Liberty Shield.

Operation Liberty Shield also includes physical security measures, such as increased transportation surveillance and food monitoring.

With the cyberalert plan, Internet threats will not be folded into a larger security plan that includes physical and electronic vigilance. This should allow the government to focus more fully on Internet security, according to Dave Jevans, senior vice president of security firm Tumbleweed Communications.

Jevans told the E-Commerce Times that although the government is deeply involved in Internet security, the topic is not the only one it must tackle.

“They’ve got a lot of other stuff to look at and be doing,” he said. “So, we’ll see what happens with it.”

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