Security in numbers

After numerous, publicized cyberattacks, the Clinton administration is considering putting its money where its mouth is to protect key computer systems from hackers, cyberterrorists and criminals. It's high time that security claims its own piece of the president's budget request, but money is just the first step in what will be an arduous undertaking fraught with political turf battles.

OMB is considering including funds in President Clinton's fiscal 2000 budget request for the development of systems to protect federal computers from cyber- and physical attacks. The effort is part of a presidential directive issued in May that called on the 22 largest agencies to develop a plan to protect their vital computer systems.

These efforts are long overdue. For years, computer security experts in and out of government have called for feds to beef up IT security. Numerous agencies have had their Web sites and computer networks hacked. Thankfully, most attacks have amounted to little more than adolescents posting pornographic photos or anti-government propaganda or just testing their computer skills. But, as top DOD officials have warned, it is just a matter of time before serious cyberterrorists try to cause real havoc.

The consequences of failing to protect federal networks are frightful. Indeed, experts say security follows the Year 2000 problem at the top of the federal IT agenda.

We urge OMB to include funding for security in the fiscal 2000 budget request. But that's just the beginning. True teamwork is required to make such systems a reality. The federal landscape is littered with failed efforts to develop systems that required interagency cooperation.

Just as agencies, the administration and Congress have begun to work together to squash the Year 2000 bug, agencies should put aside their differences and work together to form a truly effective security system.

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