White House report to call for tougher net security

But will skip mandates

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

President George Bush's senior internet security advisor will this morning present the IT industry with a set of recommendations, almost a year in the making, on how the internet can be secured against criminals and terrorists,

writes Kevin Murphy.

Special advisor to the President Richard Clarke's five-part document, draft portions of which have been seen by ComputerWire, is expected to call for tighter information sharing between companies developing and deploying IT systems, as well as faster adoption of secure versions of ubiquitous internet protocols.

"Business should consider the potential benefits of disclosing information concerning their information security efforts so that customers and investors can make knowledgeable choices," says the draft report, entitled "National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace ", which includes about 60 to 80 recommendations.

"Companies across the economy have become so reliant and interdependent on these systems that a lapse in system security can have catastrophic consequences," the draft says. The report will have five parts, focusing on every level from the consumer and small business to the global stage, according to people familiar with early drafts.

Security companies are expecting a generalized call to arms from the report, with a focus on cooperation and information sharing, but some parts of earlier drafts of the document, such as a part lambasting wireless networks or mandating personal firewalls, have reportedly been removed after lobbying from tech firms.

"I would not be surprised if the report is a lot different than what people are expecting," said Trend Micro Inc's global director of education David Perry. He added that the formation of an industry-led "information sharing and coordination (ISAC)" center is likely to be suggested, and other tech executives agree.

"The ISAC model the government has been proposing for some time," Perry said. "I'm fairly certain that's going to be a recommendation." ISACs, found in other industries, are independent bodies that collect crucial data, scrub it of competitive detail, and distribute it to participating members.

Check Point Software Technologies Ltd, which has the largest share of the firewall market, seems to agree, and will today announce an information-sharing feature in its SmartDefense software and firewall line that will allow companies to send and receive information about internet attacks.

Check Point VP of business development Asheem Chandna told ComputerWire there will be an option in forthcoming firewalls that allows them to anonymously send attack data to the SANS Institute's Internet Storm Center, which tracks attacks globally, and be "good internet citizens".

Chandna said he does not expect Clarke's report to get too granular. "It will generally be some guidelines, some calls for action," he said. "It would surprise me if the specifics are there." At the same time, Chandna said he expects some kind of recommendation that IT firms increase their cooperation.

Clarke's report is expected to be presented to the President in two months, after a period of comment. Although nothing in the report will be immediately binding on anybody, post-September 11 security concerns are expected to mean Congress and the White House will take Clarke's recommendations seriously, with money backing up possible future legislation.

One executive at a security company told ComputerWire: "The report will be a series of suggestions for industry self-regulation under the threat of legislation." The executive suggested that the movies and music industry are examples of previous occasions the government has made such a move.

For this reason, security firms have been reportedly lobbying hard to have anything too stringent - such as mandatory personal firewalls distributed with internet access software - imposed upon them, for fear it will make investors see a huge price tag and scare them away.

"As far as I am aware, there was substantial lobbying to get this strategy to mandate particular brands and techniques," SonicWALL Inc CEO Bill Roach said. "But my understanding is that that will not be in there." It is said that a portion of the report that would ask companies to contribute millions of dollars to a security fund have also been pulled at the last minute.

Instead, the report may contain some principles about securing internet protocols. The draft report mentions Secure BGP (border gateway protocol), DNSSec (secure domain name system) and IPv6 as protocols that need to be supported across the internet to defend against known forms of attack. The document recommends an incremental rollout of such support, starting at large Tier-1 ISPs and enterprises.

The report may also contain a focus on notoriously insecure emerging wireless networking technologies. According to the Associated Press, an early draft of the report called for the outright banning of wireless LANs until the security of such systems has been improved, though this recommendation is believed to have been pulled.

Doug Sabo, government relations director at Network Associates Inc, told ComputerWire suggestions on securing wireless local area networks will be prominent in the report. "You can walk up the streets of Washington DC with one of these wireless devices and get onto all kinds of wireless LANs without the companies even knowing it," he said.

But he added that he believes the report will not be too strict on companies. "If it had been a series of government mandates, this document would be dead on arrival," Sabo said. "It will understand the role market forces have to play in cybersecurity."

© Computerwire.com. All rights reserved.

Sponsored: Driving business with continuous operational intelligence