Feds say Y2K experience aids in cyberdefense

The Senate last week took its first close look at how the expertise and systems being developed to deal with the Year 2000 problem can be used now and in the future against intentional attacks on the nation's infrastructure.

Testifying before the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, federal experts said experience gained by a special coordination center created to gather and share information on problems caused by the Year 2000 date change could be used to confront infrastructure protection issues. However, the center itself may not be needed beyond next March.

"Clearly, there will be much of value that will last beyond the [Year 2000 Information Coordination Center]," said John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. "This is in effect our first real-time test...and ultimately, it is a great way for all of us to learn from this experience."

President Clinton recently officially created the ICC, which will gather and share information on incidents worldwide caused by the Year 2000 date change. That information then will be used by agencies, state and local governments and the private sector for a coordinated response. The Senate committee is considering expanding its mission beyond the Year 2000 problem and its life span beyond Feb. 29 to oversee the information security and critical infrastructure protection efforts at the congressional level.

But federal officials involved in infrastructure protection issues told the committee that the structures already are in place in the public and private sectors to handle critical infrastructure protection. The officials added that the ICC's information sharing mechanism and the partnerships created throughout government and industry as part of that sharing will be key when dealing with any incidents in the future when someone brings down a computer system that controls a country's transportation, communication or energy infrastructures.

"Our collective efforts on Y2K should provide valuable lessons learned for the continuing activities of the NIPC and the federal lead agencies in dealing with cyber incidents after Y2K," said Michael Vatis, chief of the National Infrastructure Protection Center at the FBI.

It is hoped that the experience gained from fixing the Year 2000 bug will cut down on the time it will take to develop future responses and management to critical infrastructure attacks, said John Tritak, director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office.

The Defense Department has plenty of experience dealing with cyberprotection issues, but it plans to rely heavily on the structures that are being put in place within the department to support the ICC, said Richard Schaeffer, director of infrastructure and information assurance at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence.

Experts throughout government and industry have started to refer to the Year 2000 problem as the first real test of protecting the critical infrastructure of the United States against computer system failures. Although any problems caused by the Year 2000 date change will be unintentional, focus is turning to the possible effect on the nation's infrastructure if someone deliberately attacked a system in an attempt to bring it down.

Committee chairman Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and vice chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) also raised several possibilities for more concrete ways that agencies and industry can contribute, including continuing the ICC in the role of a critical infrastructure protection center, creating a new organization to oversee the coordination and even creating a "government chief information officer," who would be at the level of an assistant to the president. The key to infrastructure protection is how fast the response time is because the longer the response takes, the longer you are vulnerable, said Winn Schwartau, information warfare author and consultant. "We need a fundamental shift in the way we approach security," Schwartau said. "It requires an empowerment much farther down the chain of command."

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Officials: Security plan on track

In the face of privacy concerns, schedule remains unchanged

By Diane Frank

Despite public outcry and congressional interest, federal officials are sticking to their schedule for developing and releasing a plan to protect the federal information infrastructure from cyberattacks. Several stories in the media last week inaccurately reported that the draft of the National Plan for Information Systems Protection would put the FBI in charge of monitoring private-sector and government networks for cyberattacks through the Federal Intrusion Detection Network (Fidnet).

This touched off protests from public-interest groups about citizens' privacy, and several members of Congress asked for a complete copy of the draft and a briefing in the next few weeks.

Officials from the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO), the National Infrastructure Protection Center and other high-level federal groups involved in creating the plan said the attention to what is still an internal document under development will not change anything.

"This will have no effect on the process," one senior National Security Council official said. "It is just now completing the second round of comments from the agencies and industry...and will be brought to the president in October."

Others stressed that the plan deals only with federal networks and that the privacy and civil rights of Americans are being taken into account at every step.

"An important element of the Fidnet program is a legal review by the Justice Department," said John Tritak, director of the CIAO. The plan also is being reviewed by the chief counselor for privacy at the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and those reviews may change the current version of the plan, he said.

In fact, the first version of the plan has already been reviewed by the Office of the Assistant Attorney General, which determined it was completely legal, according to a senior DOJ official.

The plan is based on the critical infrastructure protection plans from agencies and industry required by Presidential Decision Directive 63 and originally was scheduled to be sent to Congress and the president this fall, Tritak said.

It also includes programs for education and training of information security professionals, research and development of computer security profits, and the basis for revisions of current laws to "promote greater information sharing, enhance systems security, and strengthen protections for civil liberties and privacy."

Although members of Congress has known about the plan for some time, most did not realize its extent, and that is partly what touched off a request from Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) to receive a copy of the plan, said a spokesman for the senator.

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