Federal IT security team reorganized

After almost a year of studying how to fund a governmentwide security program, the CIO Council last week expanded management of the federal computer security response team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to the General Services Administration.

The Federal Computer Incident Response Capability (FedCIRC) program, in place since 1996, helps agencies prevent and recover from technology-related security attacks, including everything from hackers posting pornography on federal World Wide Web sites to viruses that corrupt and destroy data.

FedCIRC maintains a Web site, which lists bulletins on security issues and offers links to available tools and tips. FedCIRC also maintains a hot line that agencies can call if they suspect a security breach. FedCIRC also offers services, including an on-site information security evaluation of an agency.

The program received $3.6 million in start-up funding from the Government Information Technology Services Board, but those funds will run out next month. GSA will take over management of FedCIRC on Oct. 1, and the agency will partly fund the program from the Federal Technology Service (FTS), said Judith Spencer, the director of the Center for Governmentwide Security at GSA and new manager of FedCIRC.

NIST will still be involved in the program, according to Mark Boster, CIO of the Justice Department and chairman of the CIO Council Security Committee. But GSA will be in charge of the operational end, coordinating with other FedCIRC groups and contractors.

"Part of the problem, and part of the price of the program, was trying to provide all of the services to everyone," Boster said. "Every organization is going to need [security help]...and for every organization to go out and do it on their own would not be cost-effective and would be very inefficient."

GSA chose Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute's Computer Emergency Response Team, one of two systems in place, to handle the dedicated hot line for emergency security calls.

Currently the Web site provides all basic information for free. FedCIRC will respond to any agency that calls the hot line with a problem, but agencies can also subscribe to receive more services and priority response. FedCIRC offers three subscription levels, ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 per year, which initially funded most of FedCIRC's operations.

FedCIRC will not offer the subscriptions starting in October, Spencer said. "One of the problems [with the program was that] there was limited success with the subscriptions," she said. "It was one of the lessons learned.... Agencies did not take advantage of it" because they knew FedCIRC would always respond.

Under GSA, the FedCIRC program will instead be split into two categories: core services and fee-based services. With the core services, FedCIRC "plays a triage role...assisting with the first line of defense and recovery" from cyberattacks, Spencer said.

FedCIRC will post alerts of possible security risks, determining if an attack is a one-time or widespread threat and providing tools and information to help agencies become more secure. In the first half of fiscal 1998, agencies reported more than 400 incidents that affected thousands of users, Spencer said.

According to Spencer, the FTS has committed to provide the up-front funding for the core services for the next fiscal year. "We feel that the basic core services that make up FedCIRC should be centrally provided across the board," she said.

The fee-based services, for which agencies will buy services on an as-needed basis, include data and system recovery when an agency does not have people in-house to deal with information that has been corrupted or lost.

The current FedCIRC Web site is fedcirc.llnl.gov. The new site, which will become active Oct. 1, will be www.fedcirc.gov.


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