A missed opportunity

In the Bush administration's draft National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, the authors wrote in the section dealing with the federal government, "Accepting anything less than excellence in federal computer security places the nation and the American people at risk." Too bad the cyberspace security strategists didn't apply the same criteria to their effort in writing the report.

Federal security experts in and outside government are disappointed with the draft, especially the eight pages on what the federal government must do to secure its critical information systems. Much of the section is devoted to rehashing. Bush's cybersecurity team used a lot of space explaining what the Office of Management and Budget is doing to push federal information technology managers to secure systems and meet the requirements of the Government Information Security Reform Act of 2000.

Federal IT workers know all that, and they know the problems. What they want are answers and leadership. What they got was a book report. The document is full of "shoulds" and "coulds." The unsettling aspect is that the federal government section was the most strongly worded section in the entire report.

For years, IT managers have clamored for stronger security guidance — and the money to pay for it. What they have received during those years is vague direction, cuts in spending and admonishments for not securing their systems. The Bush administration had the rare opportunity to use the report to drive some clear stakes in the ground that spelled out what is expected of agencies and how to achieve those goals.

Of course, federal IT managers are not free from blame. They have routinely ignored directives from the General Services Administration's Federal Computer Incident Response Center that give information about new security holes in products and how to fix them.

The administration could do a lot more to set clearer, stricter guidelines by the time the final report is completed at the end of the year. After all, as the report states, poor information security puts Americans at risk. The report's security policies should reflect that.

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