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Congressional study rejects Clinton's IT security Czar, FIDNET

GAO investigator slams intrusion detection

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The President's scheme to bolster US government computer security by appointing an information security Czar, and developing an automated monitoring system to expand intrusion detection known as FIDNET, is misguided, General Accounting Office (GAO) Government and Defence Information Systems Director Jack Brock told Congress last week. "The specific criticism we have of the President's plan is that it focuses so much on intrusion detection you begin to get the impression that it was the primary means they have of improving the federal government's computer security programme," Brock said in testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The GAO is an investigative body which reviews and audits the federal bureaucracy on behalf of Congress. It recently looked into computer and information security procedures in numerous government bureaus. The investigation revealed widespread security failures, most of which derive from poor management. One doesn't find an agency with good information management and bad security, just as one never sees an agency with poor management and good security, Brock observed. Allowing the Clinton Administration to address computer security as an individual element of federal information management would be a mistake, he insisted. Intrusion detection alone will do nothing to prevent data security being compromised in the first place. A far more holistic approach is needed, Brock believes. "One agency that we've gone to at [the Environmental Protection Agency] did a pretty good job of reporting and recording intrusions; but they did a very bad job of doing anything to prevent those intrusions, or analyzing those intrusions to take corrective action," Brock recalled. In spite of the GAO's wisdom, the President last week ordered a review of every federal agency to determine their vulnerability to cyber attack, which will be administered by White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. The prevention of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks "to make sure that federal computers cannot be used by outsiders to attack others" would be a priority, Clinton said. The Clinton Administration appears to be indulging federal law enforcement agencies which prefer an emphasis on intrusion detection and response, simply because it assures them an increasingly prominent role in national cyber security matters. Obviously, if intrusion prevention were to improve dramatically, the Department of Justice (DoJ), the FBI, and the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) would have less justification to muck about in cyberspace. This would result in some reduction of bargaining power to attract federal funds for cyber crime initiatives, to obtain expanded powers of surveillance on line, and to reduce opportunities for Netizens to surf the Web in complete anonymity, all of which are among the DoJ's highest priorities right now. The Register foresees little trouble for the DoJ in realising its ambitions, however. Having observed the pace of common-sense innovation among US government bureaus for several years now, we make it a safe bet that a significant erosion of on-line privacy and liberties will have taken place long before Uncle Sam stops making network intrusions a matter of child's play. ®

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