Buzz of the Week: A cyberwar paradox

There was an odd juxtaposition last week between the Russian/Georgian conflict and the Defense Department’s cyber warfare efforts.

Of course, last week, Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia waged a more conventional battle, but before the bullets began flying, there appears to have been something akin to cyber shock and awe. A New York Times front page headline states, “Before the gunfire, cyberattacks,” and the story notes how information technology security analysts had been watching cyberattacks directed at Georgia’s government for weeks.

Federal Computer Week reporter Ben Bain reports in this issue that it is difficult to determine the origin of those attacks  — apparently there are still some anonymous places in the world. Yet although there might not be an easy way to link it to Russia directly, it certainly seems logical that it would be a prime suspect. U.S. government agencies also have been seeing more attacks. Last year, the Defense Department’s network was hacked, and DOD officials are still not completely sure what data the perpetrators were able to steal. Although we haven’t seen cyberwar replace traditional warfare, most countries are adding cyber techniques to their arsenals.

So it was curious that on Aug. 12, the same day of the New York Times story, former FCW reporter Bob Brewin broke the story for Government Executive — confirmed by FCW — that the Air Force was suspending its cyber command program. As trumpeted in Air Force TV ads, the Cyber Command was seen as a way for DOD to coordinate its cyber warfare initiatives, both offensive and defensive. In October 2007, FCW named Air Force Maj. Gen. William Lord, who was leading the command, as a government Power Player.

The command appears to be the victim of infighting. All DOD components believe they are on the front lines of the cyberwar, and they contend that the Cyber Command was the Air Force’s attempt to grab the cyber lead.

Yet somehow the coincidental timing of these two stories seems remarkable — and paradoxical.


#2: Marty Wagner update
It’s been six weeks since former General Services Administration official Marty Wagner fell from his roof and suffered a serious head injury. Unfortunately, Wagner remains in a coma, but he has been transferred from the George Washington Hospital to the Woodbine Nursing and Rehab Facility in Alexandria, Va.

Wagner’s family welcomes donations of audio books on tape or CD — especially science fiction and nonfiction titles — to hopefully keep his mind stimulated as his body heals.

We have more details about how you can get audio books to Wagner on the “FCW Insider” blog.

Please keep Wagner in your thoughts and prayers, as we will.

#3: Out in the cold
The Alaska Native Corp. set-aside program was created to help Alaska natives, but a recent audit report has found two companies violated their conditions for inclusion in the program.

Critics of the program have long said that it is ripe for abuse, and the Small Business Administration Inspector General’s audit might confirm those suspicions. The companies, AMP and Goldbelt Raven, entered unapproved agreements that would send significant portions of their contract proceeds to managers who are not Alaska natives, according to the audit report.

#4: Fess up
The Environmental Protection Agency has long relied on self-reporting to discover at least some violations of the agency’s rules. Although one might debate the wisdom of relying on what amounts to an honor system for profit-driven businesses, EPA is launching a test of a new online system to make that reporting easier.

Companies can use the pilot eDisclosure system to report their own violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. For example, failing to submit required forms for EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory would violate the act.

The system is expected to reduce transaction costs for companies by ensuring that each disclosure contains all the necessary information, according to EPA. What it won’t do is provide any greater incentive for unscrupulous companies to report their violations at all.

It’s a carrot-and-stick with no carrot. Or stick.

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