Security needs better education for programmers

Dealing with Internet computer worms and viruses requires a long-term education effort aimed at programmers while they are still in college, a Homeland Security Department executive said today.

Lawrence Hale, deputy director of the DHS' U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, said, "the things that are costing us the most pain are preventable." Programmers can be taught to avoid creating buffer overflows and other well-known vulnerabilities found in commercial software, said Hale, speaking at this year's FOSE conference on government technology.

It could be years before the results of education show up in software that is being sold, but the effort is needed more than ever because the problem is getting worse, officials said. Describing the problems facing Internet users, Hale said an increasing number of cyberattacks are done for profit. "Worms are turning machines into mail servers," he said. "Your machines are being used to spam. There's profit in this game now."

In addition to working with universities to promote secure programming practices, DHS is working with researchers at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs and other organizations on new tools that could detect the precursors of network attacks, Hale said. Officials from Bell Labs are researching high-speed hardware devices to protect Internet routers from attack, said Tom Reddington, director of Bell's Internet Research Laboratory.

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