NCS readying 'gee-whiz' Internet warning project

The National Communications System is in the early stages of a Global Early Warning Information System (GEWIS) pilot project in which government and industry will examine the health and topology of the Internet.

The pilot project will assess how well critical areas of the Internet are performing worldwide and then use that data to notify government, industry or U.S. allies of impending cyberattacks or possible disturbances, said Brenton Greene, deputy manager of NCS.

Those indicators will include looking at the performance of selected government and industry e-commerce sites, as well as tools to identify and detect worms or denial-of-service attacks, he said. The pilot project (also called the Global Cyber Early Warning Information System) will not be ready to launch until next year.

"It's still early, but this is an idea whose time has come," Greene told Federal Computer Week during a Sept. 25 interview at his office in Arlington, Va. "The more we scratch at it, the more fascinating it gets."

Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting Inc., said the government already has some good cyber warning models in place, but they typically focus on a specific area or agency.

"This sounds like an expansion of a concept that's already proven its value within government today," Suss said. "There are centers that provide warnings and response, but this recognizes the global nature of the [threat] and the need for global response."

NCS, which is co-managed by the White House and the Defense Information Systems Agency, assists the president, the National Security Council and federal agencies with their telecommunications functions and coordinates the government's national security and emergency preparedness communications.

NCS includes the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service and the Wireless Priority Service in which government workers are given a code and are categorized for priority access. These services are used in emergencies and worked well following last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

NCS is working on two other pilot projects aimed at improving the reliability and speed of the telecommunications and wireless systems for first responders and other key personnel during a national crisis or disaster.

The first is an emergency notification system that would use Internet-based, wireless and other telecommunications systems to notify a "few thousand key people" in the Washington, D.C., area during a national disaster. That pilot project would include the contact information of key personnel and would attempt to reach them by the fastest method available, Greene said.

The other NCS pilot project is aimed at establishing a backup dial tone for key federal buildings, Greene said, adding that the agency is in the final review of several technologies, including free-space optics, which uses high-bandwidth laser links among buildings' backbones at close ranges.

Greene said he hopes to have those two pilot projects in limited release in October or November.

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