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Experts: US Not Prepared for Cyber Attack

Multi-billion-dollar investment recommended to mitigate threats

The United States is vulnerable to a "strategically crippling cyber attack" by enemies around the world, experts told Congress yesterday.

Testifying before the House Committee on Homeland Security, high-profile experts said the federal government's cyber defenses have become dated and may leave the country open to an attack -- "not by a conventional weapon, but by a cyber weapon."

"We are a nation unprepared to properly defend ourselves and recover from a strategic cyber attack," said Sami Saydjari, president of Professionals for Cyber Defense, a non-profit association.

"Foreign intelligence agencies must weep with joy when they contemplate U.S. government networks," agreed James Lewis, director and senior fellow for the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "This is not a hypothetical problem. The last 20 years have seen an unparalleled looting of U.S. government databases."

Government agencies are not doing enough to keep up with the changing threats that are emerging in cyberspace, and current defenses are inadequate, Lewis asserted. It is quite possible to hack networks that meet current security requirements, such as Common Criteria certification and FISMA, he observed.

"In other words, you can meet all the formal requirements and still be vulnerable," he said.

Recent cutbacks in Homeland Defense's cyber security budget may not have been wise, the experts said. "A strategic, multi-billion-dollar investment run by the country's best experts can mitigate this risk if we start now with $500 million," said Saydjari.

Daniel Geer, principal of Geer Risk Services LLC, said Congress should invest in the development of security metrics, training of security professionals, and greater surveillance of data.

Congress should also do more to legislate the rules of vulnerability disclosure, as it does with the disclosure of communicable diseases, Geer stated. "No general counsel will share information risk data willingly, and no CSO outranks his or her general counsel." Congress needs to help companies find ways to share data about vulnerabilities without exposing themselves to public scrutiny and lost business, he suggested.

Douglas Maughan, program manager for cyber security R&D at Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, conceded that more needs to be done on cyber security, but he also noted that the directorate's budget for R&D was just $13 million in 2007 and is slated to be $14.8 million in 2008.

The agency is working with private industry to shore up the defenses of the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS), which was attacked earlier this year, and it is building test beds to allow deeper research into emerging Internet vulnerabilities and testing of new security technologies, he said.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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