Reno launches security alliance

Attorney General Janet Reno and the Information Technology Association of America today unveiled a set of initiatives to combat computer crime.

A key component of the initiatives is a "personnel exchange program," in which IT professionals will work and learn side by side with computer crime specialists at the Justice Department's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), which DOJ established last year to focus on public- and private-sector information security and to build a system to detect and track down the origin of cyberattacks on federal and private computer networks. Likewise, federal computer security specialists will boost their skills by serving "fellowships" at IT companies.

"If we are to ensure public safety and responsible computer use, then government, industry and the public must all work together," Reno said in a speech she delivered last week at an ITAA policy summit.

Harris Miller, ITAA's president, said partnership members could recruit participants for the personnel exchange program from other federal agencies besides DOJ. He said agencies that might be recruited for the program include the Treasury Department and the Energy Department.

The Cybercitizen Partnership will be composed of a pool of government computer security and computer crime experts who have learned from observing the IT industry's practices in depth, especially focusing on how the IT industry builds security into computer systems. "This Cybercitizen Partnership is an exciting beginning," Reno said.

The partnership also calls for the creation of an IT directory of specialists in various technologies and computer applications to whom government computer security professionals can turn for help. Along with the personnel exchange program, the initiatives should give government a big boost in making centers such as NIPC more effective, DOJ officials said.

"The missing piece throughout [the development of a national infrastructure protection strategy] has been the private sector," said Michael Vatis, director of NIPC, which includes more than 100 workers focused on preventing and investigating attacks on federal and major private-sector computer systems as well as utilities such as electricity and water (see related story, Page 14).

For industry, the new partnership should show how federal agencies operate their systems, which should help industry offer better proposals when agencies solicit bids for technology contracts.

"This is very much a win-win, two-way opportunity for the private and public sector," said Milton Cooper, federal-sector president for Computer Sciences Corp., a member of ITAA.

But some in the IT industry may be reluctant to join the partnership for fear of government learning how corporations design computer infrastructures. "They are not all going to accept it," Miller said.

Besides the personnel exchange program and the IT specialist directory, the Cybercitizen Partnership initiatives include a public-awareness campaign designed to educate, in particular, children and young adults about the basics of critical information protection and security.

Reno said the new partnership should help prevent the electronic-information arena from becoming overtaken by outlaws. "We cannot allow cyberspace to become the Wild West of the Information Age," she said in a prepared statement.

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