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FBI cyber-brainiacs infect themselves with SirCam

Yet request more money from Congress

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We've long been at a loss to identify a single job that the FBI's elite Net-security squad at the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) performs adequately.

In May the Congressional General Accounting Office (GAO) released a scathing report cataloging NIPC's chronic dysfunction, so it was with delicious irony that on Wednesday, after managing to infect its own networks with the SirCam e-mail worm, NIPC told Congress that it would disgrace itself a good deal less often if it had a bigger budget.

"While the Center has representatives from several government agencies, staffing continues to be a challenge," NIPC Director Ronald Dick told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Agencies have responded to the NIPC's requests for detailees by saying that they are constrained from sending personnel due to lack of funds."

Actually, according to the GAO report, other federal agencies have lately responded to NIPC requests for detailees with a resounding 'get lost' because insecure and knowledge-proud NIPC geeks keep offending the specialists so generously provided, but we digress.

Problems the GAO has identified at NIPC include the inability to get the word out on emerging threats (most recently it took them days to mention the Code Red and SirCam worms after the media had begun reporting, and even managed to infect themselves with the latter); defensive hostility among NIPC staff directed at specialists from other agencies; and failure to provide threat analysis and predict trends, as we reported earlier.

The purpose of Wednesday's hearing was to give Dick a chance to explain how grateful he is for the GAO's valuable input, and claim, against vast evidence to the contrary, to be doing a swell job of reforming the Center.

US Senator Diane Feinstein (Democrat, California) grabbed the quip of the week by observing that the NIPC itself represents "an important hole in our national infrastructure."

Nicely put. And as for that budget enlargement, we wouldn't hold our breath. ®

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