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DHS chief goes nuclear on cyber security

Digital bomb them back to the Stone Age

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RSA The US government is to shut thousands of points from which outsiders can access federal computer networks to about 50, Homeland security chief Michael Chertoff revealed today (Tuesday).

In a keynote at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, Chertoff outlined the government's plans to protect itself from cyber attack. he even compared this to a digital "Manhattan Project" in terms of impact and importance. So no lack of ambition there.

Five years after the birth of President Bush's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, the time's is ripe for a "quantum leap forward", according to Chertoff

Among the new defences will be an early warning system, under which government agencies and the intelligence community will share information on computer security threats. The current system for collecting, analyzing and sharing information - US-CERT's Einstein program - isn't fully engaged, Chertoff said.

This year the Department of Homeland Security has budgeted $155m for cyber security - and is gunning for $200m in fiscal 2009.

Asked by The Register in a post keynote Q&A how the department could expect to be taken seriously given low spending levels, Chertoff said other US departments are also providing funding, but he declined to say how much

"I only described the budget from my department... you are seeing the tip of the iceberg here," he said. "Even by Silicon Valley standards the vision is pretty robust."

Chertoff last month named Rod Beckstrom, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author, to head the department's new National Cyber Security Center.

He was keen to emphasis the Whitehouse's renewed commitment, pointing to creation of the National Cyber Security Center with National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 in January. However, this may go down more in history for a massive expansion in federal domestic surveillance rather than for its commitment to protecting the nation's critical infrastructure from hackers and criminal gangs.

At RSA, Chertoff sought to ease concerns over government control of the internet through directive 54: "The government doesn't own the internet and cyber network thank God - you own the internet and cyber networks... the federal government cannot promise to protect every system or home computer."®

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