Bush pumps money into cyberdefenses

President Bush asked Congress last week to immediately move $152 million into cybersecurity programs for fiscal 2008. That presidential request and recent classified briefings on Capitol Hill are two signs that top administration officials recognize how porous agency networks have become.

Events of the past six months, including a major cyberattack on Estonian government Web sites and intrusions into the Defense Department’s unclassified network, have raised awareness of growing cyberthreats and moved high-ranking officials to act, former government officials and private-sector security experts say.

“The political people in the administration awoke to the importance of this, especially with the new cybersecurity commission and recent hearings,” said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute. That commission, organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will advise the next administration on cybersecurity priorities.

The president asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to redirect existing funding at the Homeland Security Department and the FBI into cybersecurity programs at each of those agencies. “These amendments are necessary to enhance federal civilian agency cybersecurity and strengthen defenses to combat terrorism,” President Bush wrote to Pelosi.

The president asked for $115 million to enhance DHS’ ability to implement the Einstein program administered by the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. Einstein monitors about 13 participating agencies’ network gateways for traffic patterns that indicate the presence of computer worms or other unwanted traffic.

“The funding will also increase our investigative capabilities [and] reduce multiple access points and points of vulnerability while ensuring government cyber centers stay connected and focused on detecting potential attacks,” said Jeff Carter, a spokesman at DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate.

Justice, meanwhile, would receive $39 million to help the FBI investigate incursions into federal networks, increase intelligence analysis and provide technical tools for investigations.

“There will be a huge amount of money spent on cyber projects, and I believe this is the budget for the public-facing part,” Paller said. “The rest will be in the black budget,” which is secret.

A government official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said the funding request and other initiatives are not a result of a specific incident but of many recent developments in the cyber world.

In addition to requesting the funding transfers, administration officials have briefed lawmakers on classified cybersecurity initiatives, one Capitol Hill source said. More briefings are expected in the coming weeks, another Capitol Hill source said. The briefings that have occurred did not deal with the cybersecurity funding request, the first source said.

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