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Lack of funding threatens cybersecurity project

Industry Standard

(IDG) -- A lack of funding is threatening a public-private initiative aimed at preventing cyberattacks similar to the denial-of-service attacks against Yahoo, eBay and others in February.

Government officials championing the Partnership for Critical Infrastructure Security, which gained momentum after the first cybersummit in February, are disheartened after Congress tentatively slashed the budget for the agency overseeing the initiative.

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Despite the setback, officials from the Department of Commerce and the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, along with security experts from Microsoft, Cisco and other companies, said Thursday that they are making progress on a plan for cooperation and collaboration in the effort to protect the nation's digital infrastructure. An early version of the cybersecurity-cooperation plan was released in January, and private industry has been working with officials on a second version of the plan, which is expected to be released in spring 2001.

"This is the first major partnership to address critical issues that influence both industry and government," says Ambassador L. Craig Johnstone, senior VP of international economic and national security affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

One important issue the participants are addressing is the hesitancy of corporations to share information about security breaches with one another and the government. To assuage those concerns, they are considering requesting modifications to the Freedom of Information Act, which would ensure that the information companies' share would remain confidential, according to Johnstone. In addition, they are discussing ways to protect corporations against antitrust complaints.

The House has approved about $2 million of the $6 million requested by the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, and Senate committees have approved about $3 million, according to William A. Reinsch, undersecretary of the Bureau of Export Administration at the Commerce Department. That money makes up just a small part of the $2 billion that President Clinton proposed to fight cyberterrorism, most of which was slated to go to the Defense Department. Clinton has threatened to veto the bill that would reduce the CIAO's funding, which is still pending in the Senate.

Officials were asking for nearly $100 million for CIAO, for projects such as R&D, monitoring government networks and security training programs. Such programs otherwise are getting no financial support from Congress.

"If CIAO is not adequately funded, there may not be another version" of the cybersecurity plan, says Dick Clark, special assistant to the president and national coordinator on critical infrastructure. "The biggest challenge is knowing how much Congress is willing to support cyberdefense."




RELATED STORIES:
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Analysis: The forensics of Internet security
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Denial-of-service threat gets engineering community's attention
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