Deadline set for security plans

The Clinton administration this month tapped the General Services Administration to lead the federal-sector effort to protect critical infrastructures and designated 14 lead agencies and eight secondary agencies to design a plan to protect the government's critical assets from cyberattacks and physical threats.

At the request of the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget, GSA will identify governmentwide and schedule contracts to offer security services to agencies that need to protect computer systems.

The ramped-up federal effort is the result of a presidential decision directive issued in May that required agencies to inventory computer systems and physical assets and develop a plan to protect from cyberattacks the systems deemed as critical to the agencies' operations.

The Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) has designated 14 agencies that must turn in by Nov. 18 a plan to protect critical infrastructures. In addition, the lead agencies will work with industry to form plans to shield national critical infrastructure assets from attacks from hackers, terrorists or other unauthorized users. For example, the Treasury Department will work with the nation's financial sector, while the Energy Department will work with oil and gas companies.

Secondary agencies will be required to submit the same protection plans by Feb. 1. Before the CIAO announcement, all federal government agencies were required to submit critical infrastructure protection plans by Nov. 18.

To help agencies find tools to protect systems, GSA has partnered with Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., which is offering infrastructure protection planning services under the $620 million Telecommunications Support Contract 2 (TSC2), said Tom Burke, GSA's assistant commissioner for information security. GSA and Booz-Allen have contacted each agency's chief information officer about the offering and are visiting CIOs to gauge whether agencies need any help devising protection plans.

GSA and Booz-Allen are close to closing deals on task orders from several agencies, which Burke declined to name. GSA is working with other vendors holding existing contracting vehicles to identify other sources of services for agencies. Officials also are considering offering services that agencies may need— including system vulnerability testing and assessment— via GSA schedules, he said.

Sallie McDonald, deputy assistant commissioner in GSA's Office of Information Security, said GSA is spending a lot of time educating the agencies about the requirements of the directive. "They're not familiar dealing with presidential decision directives," she said. "Most of them haven't seen it. They're at a loss."

Burke said the level of effort required to comply with the directive will vary by agency. However, some agencies are using the work that they already have undertaken as part of the Year 2000 date conversion to address the mandate, he said. For example, the Transportation Department identified 1,600 systems that were labeled as critical as part of its Year 2000 effort.

"Perhaps 100 to 150 would be identified as critical systems under the criteria for the presidential decision directive," Burke said. "[GSA] may only have 10 to 15 systems.... The level of effort for us is going to be a little different."

The Year 2000 problem may have provided a jump start to identify critical systems, but it also may have diverted funds for agencies to buy services.

Ed Giorgio, a principal at Booz-Allen, said that while agencies have responded positively to GSA's offer to help, they are having trouble finding money to buy protection services. "What discretionary money they have in their budgets is being used to fix Y2K projects," he said.

Money could become tighter when agencies launch their protection plans because the planning portion of infrastructure protection is the least expensive step of securing systems, Giorgio said. Costs range from $50,000 to several hundred thousand dollars. The next steps— risk assessment and risk mitigation, which involves integrating solutions to protect systems— are much more expensive.

The type of asset inventory and contingency planning required by the directive is vital for infrastructure protection, said Mark Gembicki, president of WarRoom Research LLC, Annapolis, Md., and head of the Manhattan Cyber Project, which is a government/industry partnership to study information warfare attacks on the nation's infrastructure.

However, Gembicki said he questioned GSA's decision to partner with an auditing firm. He suggested that companies with special security programs geared toward specific infrastructures, such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Bell Atlantic Corp., would be better suited for this work.

"Why are you going after the same old [Washington, D.C.] Beltway contractors that have no business dealing with infrastructure protection?" Gembicki said.


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