US cyber-defense on track – report

Govt networks pretty safe nowadays

Three years after declaring cyber-defense a national security priority, the United States government has won the trust of a once-skeptical tech industry, fortified security on military networks, and "created effective public-private partnerships" to combat computer attacks, according to a report released last week by the Critical Information Assurance Office (CIAO).

The 200-page report to Congress, Report of the President of the United States on Federal Critical Infrastructure Protection Activities, chronicles the government-wide effort set into motion by Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 63, the 1998 Clinton memorandum that directed agencies to address vulnerabilities in eight critical infrastructures -- including banking networks, transportation systems, telecommunications, water, and power -- and created the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) and the CIAO.

The Clinton administration's cyber security efforts were subject to criticism from Congress last year. In June, US Senator Charles Grassley (Republican, Iowa) charged that the FBI-run NIPC responded too slowly to the LoveBug virus. In September, a House subcommittee issued a "report card" rating the cyber-security of 24 federal agencies, giving failing grades to more than a quarter of them, with an overall rating of D-minus.

Congress later mandated a full report on the administration's infrastructure protection work, due 15 January. The White House drew more criticism when it missed that deadline.

The CIAO released the report last Thursday. It provides a comprehensive look at the cyber-security programs and policies federal agencies have implemented, placing particularly strong emphasis on partnerships between the government and the private sector, which controls many of the underlying infrastructures covered by PDD-63.

Topping the list of cyber security achievements, federal agencies were able to "overcome the mistrust between the government and critical industry groups," reads the report.

Despite the government's efforts, "Potential adversaries-be they nation-states, cyber-terrorist groups, criminal organizations, or disgruntled insiders-can easily develop effective cyber-attack capabilities" to disrupt the United States' economic power and national security, the report claims.

"Achievements to date are notable, but there is still work to do. At present, there is no government-wide means for identifying critical system and their vulnerabilities and then fixing them," the report notes. "Economic growth, better government service and efficiency, and a stronger defense are all possible if we all continue to give high priority to securing cyberspace."

Under PDD-63, the CIAO is slated for termination this fall, though President Bush could issue another directive to continue its operations.

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