Cybersentries assailed again

Evidence mounts against federal computer defenders for a delayed response to the 'love bug' computer virus, according to a GAO review

Although agencies largely contained the "love bug" virus this month, a lack of coordination among the federal organizations in charge of responding to cyberattacks led to delay and damage, the General Accounting Office told Congress Thursday.

The findings come as several members of Congress put together a formal request to GAO to look into the resources and capabilities of federal incident response organizations.

In contrast to last year's "Melissa" virus, most agencies had basic procedures in place to minimize the effect of an e-mail-borne virus. However, the effects of the "love bug" were exacerbated because alerts were not issued until hours after the virus had spread, according to Jack Brock, director of GAO's Governmentwide and Defense Information Systems Division.

"Agencies did not receive adequate warning," Brock said in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee's Financial Institutions Subcommittee.

A GAO review conducted over the past two weeks shows that the National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Federal Computer Incident Response Capability and the Defense Department's Joint Task Force for Computer Network Defense did not send out sufficient warnings and information about the virus until well after the damage had been done.

The first official warnings to agencies did not commence until 8 a.m. EST, even though the first indications of the virus' potential for disruption appeared by 3 p.m. in Asia and 9 a.m. in Western Europe. (See timeline.)

The late response resulted primarily from of lack of coordination between the NIPC, FedCIRC and JTF-CND, Brock said. The NIPC first received warnings from the private sector at 5:45 a.m. but did not inform FedCIRC to send out warnings at that time because NIPC could not get confirmation of the virus' harmful potential from law enforcement and DOD representatives until two hours later.

"They did not want to release information until they had verified that this was a threat," Brock said.

Only two of the 20 agencies surveyed by GAO said they got the first warning about the virus from the NIPC and FedCIRC.

All of this evidence lends credence to the concerns of some members of Congress who, according to Brock, are putting together a formal request for GAO to look into the resources and capabilities of the NIPC to perform its analysis and warning functions.

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