DHS names federal worm hunter

FedCIRC

In the wake of the recent Blaster worm, which wreaked havoc on many federal networks, the Homeland Security Department last week named the person who will be responsible for addressing the nation's cyber vulnerabilities.

Amit Yoran, vice president of managed security services at Symantec Corp., will lead the DHS National Cyber Security Division's efforts to finally take concrete steps to meet the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace goals, which the Bush administration issued in February.

DHS also announced the creation of the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT), which will be the central point of coordination for all cyber incident warnings and responses across government and the private sector.

Because the new center builds on capabilities already in place — primarily the Federal Computer Incident Response Center and its relationship with the Carnegie Mellon University CERT Coordination Center — officials within the division are already working to coordinate with the many security companies and organizations, said Robert Liscouski, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at DHS.

The goal is that the department's alerts will provide the first line of defense, while other alerts will fill in more specific information, he said.

FedCIRC will continue to operate as a distinct entity within the larger organization because the federal government needs a group focused on its requirements, said FedCIRC Director Larry Hale.

The center is still the lead civilian group for incident warnings and response under the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 and will continue to coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget on federal security policy, he said.

However, the new partnership with CERT/CC will include additional funding for the center to enhance existing capabilities and establish new ones, Liscouski said. This includes the creation of a lab to analyze the malicious code people can use to attack computers and networks.

The key to all of the priorities, however, is to provide specific goals for the new organization. "We want to have very definable metrics by which we can measure performance," Liscouski said. "We know we're being ambitious here, but these times call for being ambitious. We're going to take risks, make mistakes and make adjustments."

Members of Congress and experts in industry praised the creation of the center and the appointment of Yoran, pointing out that his expertise gives the division someone who can focus on execution, not just planning.

But many questioned why it took so many months to take such concrete steps to address cybersecurity when the number of incidents in the past few months — including the Slammer and Blaster worms and the SoBig.F virus — are clear examples of how much damage and disruption can occur.

"The Bush administration issued an extremely vague strategy on cybersecurity in early February, and has done little since," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). "It has shown inadequate attention to the development of a comprehensive and effective plan, much less a timeline for implementing the plan."

The division waited until now because officials wanted to make sure the team and structure were in place before issuing promises for service, Liscouski told the House Homeland Security Committee's Cybersecurity, Science and Research Subcommittee when Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the subcommittee, made that his first question.

The personnel and processes have already been tested to a certain extent by the recent worms and viruses, resulting in much more communication and coordination than even a year ago when government and industry tried to address the Nimda worm in 2001, Hale said.

To get beyond straight incident response, the division will hold a forum in the fall for federal, state and local government agencies, and all portions of the private sector to determine the details of executing the priorities outlined in the national strategy, Liscouski said.

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US-CERT on alert

The U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT) announced last week plans to build on the resources in the Federal Computer Incident Response Center, particularly the partnership with the Carnegie Mellon University's CERT Coordination Center.

The goal is to provide incident warnings and responses across the country. New capabilities and goals for US-CERT include:

* Improved and faster warning and response, with the immediate goal of cutting response time to 30 minutes or less by the end of 2004.

* Better coordination and dissemination of information, establishing the center as the place for national information.

* Reduced vulnerabilities through common development practices and education.

* Improved incident prevention and detection capabilities.

Source: Homeland Security Department

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