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White House Seeks Cyber Security Aid (William Wulf)

October 10, 2001

By D. Ian Hopper
AP Technology Writer
Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2001; 5:44 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– After one day on the job, the president's cyberspace security adviser asked computer companies Wednesday to help design a new secure telecommunications network for government use.

Richard Clarke said he wants the network, called GOVNET, to be separate from the Internet to keep it safe from hackers or terrorists.

Government agencies would use GOVNET for voice and data communications, and possibly for videoconferences presidential advisers have used since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Clarke said in an interview that the idea came from the many virus and other Internet attacks on government sites over the past several years. He said about 90 percent of the fiber-optic cabling in the country is unused.

"That ought to mean that it is available cheaply," Clarke said. "Therefore we thought that now is the time to ask industry how much it would cost to do a real private network."

The nation's counterterrorism chief for more than a decade, Clarke has pressed private industry to increase computer security by improving its own products.

From his previous post at the National Security Council, he warned that America's fledgling Internet was vulnerable to a "digital Pearl Harbor" that could badly disrupt communications.

Those warnings were echoed Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where experts told Congress that part of the problem is that current computer systems were not designed with security in mind.

"Security cannot be easily or adequately added on after the fact and this greatly complicates our overall mission," Purdue University's Eugene Spafford said. "The software and hardware being deployed today has been designed by individuals with little or no security training, using unsafe methods, and then poorly tested."

The government relies on all types of technology companies – for personal computer software to public telephone networks.

Recent independent reviews have shown computers at many government agencies are open to a hacker attack. In theory, GOVNET would be impervious to outside assault – particularly from lone young hackers, the most common Internet attacker.

The chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, said research and development on computer security has not kept pace with growing threats.

"To put it simply, we need more people to be doing more creative thinking about computer security. That's what our adversaries are doing," said Boehlert, R-N.Y.

University of Virginia professor William A. Wulf said that because not enough government money is spent on computer security research, experts tend to be conservative. "Out of the box thinking in an area of scarce resources doesn't get funded," he said.

The GOVNET proposal could cost billions of dollars.

The government wants the network up and running six months after a contractor is picked, although there is no deadline for the contract to be awarded.

"A system like this can help us break through the cloud of the Internet and provide a separate network where the integrity of government information can be protected," said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, a leader on computer security issues.

Clarke said he would like private companies developing GOVNET rather than government workers.

"I don't think you want civil servants managing a network like this, and I don't think you want taxpayers to own it," Clarke said. The network would be managed by a private company and leased by the government.

Many parts of the government, including the CIA and the Defense Department, operate separate classified networks. Mark Rasch, a former Justice Department computer crimes prosecutor, said those networks could be expanded and integrated to form GOVNET.

An additional challenge is that GOVNET would have limited value because it could not access the World Wide Web.


On the Net: White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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