Cybercenter will trace net intrusions

Attorney General Janet Reno last week announced an interagency effort to track and analyze electronic threats to the nation's critical infrastructure, such as the private computer systems used to manage the financial, electrical and transportation industries.

The new National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), headed by Michael Vatis, associate deputy attorney general, will include the FBI's Computer Investigations and Infrastructure Threat Assessment Center (CITAC) and will add real-time intrusion-detection "watch-and-warning" capabilities so that officials can identify who is attacking the infrastructure's systems and trace the attacks back to a source.

Initially, the center, which will be housed at FBI headquarters, will employ 85 FBI agents and 40 employees from the Secret Service and the departments of Defense, Transportation and Energy. Eventually, the center will add employees from other agencies and the private sector. Funding mechanisms have not been completed. "Our telecommunications systems are more vulnerable than ever before as we rely on technology more than ever before," Reno said.

Reno will ask Congress for $64 million for the NIPC in fiscal 1999, a sum that would allow the establishment of six additional computer investigation centers in cities throughout the nation.

The private sector also will have a vital role to play in the electronic defense, Reno said. She called for direct electronic links between the private sector and law enforcement agencies in what she termed a "significant departure" from past behavior. The closer links, however, must be set up within the confines of the Constitution and cannot infringe on individual rights and confidentiality.

The NIPC officials may use the nation's Arms Control Treaty monitoring system as a model for its system. DOE's Sandia National Laboratory is designing a computer system that could become the backbone for a national information warfare indication and warning center. Kenneth Geide, deputy chief of NIPC, said CITAC officials have been following the work at Sandia, but a warning-and-detection method has not yet been selected.

Sandia, whose work has been partially funded by the Defense Information Systems Agency, is exploring ways to embed sensors in the computer systems of the nation's critical infrastructure, said Sam Varnado, Sandia's director of the energy and critical infrastructure technology center.

-- Busse is a reporter with the IDG News Service.

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