Degrees of Ignorance

When government officials within the national security arena buy unsecured commercial technologies, the National Security Agency may be partially to blame, said Michael Jacobs, the agency's director of information assurance. Jacobs said that in the nearly 50 years the agency has been around, its customers never had to think about information security because NSA conveniently provided it for them.

But in today's world, dominated by commercial technology, that level of service may have a downside. "They didn't think about what [commercial technology] didn't give them from a security standpoint," he said. "Part of that might have been our fault. They never thought about security anyway. They just took what we gave them and felt good about it. The same degree of ignorance that allowed them to not know it was inherently secure is the same degree of ignorance that today allows them to not know it is inherently" unsecure, Jacobs said.

He added, however, that the agency has helped raise awareness in part by taking advantage of teachable moments resulting from high-profile security cases such as Solar Sunrise, the 1998 infiltration by three teenagers into military networks. "We're not dummies. We capitalized on that," Jacobs said.

QDR: IT Front and Center

The Quadrennial Defense Review, as of last week, was scheduled for release Sept. 30. It is a comprehensive review of military force structure, acquisition and strategy and is expected to shed light on how the Pentagon will handle so-called asymmetric threats such as last month's attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a recent press conference. "I think that we spent an enormous amount of time in the QDR talking about asymmetric threats and talking about homeland defense and informational warfare and things that seem to be totally relevant to the [post-Sept. 11] security environment that we find ourselves in," Rumsfeld said. "So you will see transformational technologies that we think are directly relevant to this asymmetric threat environment, and they'll be front and center in the [multi.year budget] development."

Building Fortresses

The attack on the Pentagon has revitalized security businesses, and one new company is getting calls: a real estate developer that builds "mega-secured structures" for data centers. The so-called CyberFortresses—two of which are in Northern Virginia, with another in suburban Chicago—have 10-inch-thick concrete walls, limited glass and an on-site generator.

Officials for DataCenters.Now, an arm of BECO Management Inc., a commercial real estate developer, started getting calls from federal agencies soon after the attack. But company officials would not say specifically who called. Chris Epstein, DataCentersNow president, said the buildings were designed with security in mind. "Housing data has been somewhat of an afterthought for most organizations," he said. "We thought three years ago that didn't make any sense." The World Trade Center reportedly was home to three dozen data centers, Epstein said. Some organizations use the CyberFortress facilities as backup sites, which become their primary facilities in the event of an accident.

The firm is working with federal agencies. "We're giving them first dibs," Epstein said.

Mea Culpa

The Interceptor also took a sound beating with a wet noodle from Mary Trier, spokeswoman for the Army Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command. Although STRICOM enjoys a great relationship with the surrounding community, the rumor printed in last week's column that local law enforcement helped guard the command in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks is absolutely untrue, Trier said.

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About the Authors

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine,, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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