President Bush’s National Cyber Security Initiative- A 21st Century Manhattan Project

17 May

The Bush Administration’s new Cyber Security initiative has already received $150 million dollars this year and is expected to receive an astounding increase next year for a total of $192 million.  The mission of this new initiative is to improve on tools that currently exist to protect classified networks on federal networks in order to reduce the likelihood of major damage to all government networks.  According to a blog post at Wired Magazine, the government also would like to minimize the connections to the internet from 2,000 to 50 in order to make patrolling the cyber perimeter more manageable.

Likely to drain up to $17 billion dollars from the federal budget, the Cyber Security Initiative is cloaked in secrecy.  Apart from what you just read in the first paragraph, the public knows little more about the new initiative.  Analysts believe that the secret parts of this plan would spend billions of dollars on, “unproven, embryonic technology, and possibly illegal or ill-advised projects.”

Just as with the Patriot Act, many things are hidden in that normal citizens just wouldn’t be comfortable with.  A study by the Armed Services Committee reports that a great deal of spying will happen under the name of cyber security.  For example, many of the projects purportedly included in this umbrella initiative also look to expand foreign intelligence gathering.  Additionally, it may give agencies like the NSA free reign to examine emails, information transfers and search engine requests without a warrant.

Because the Bush Administration has marked the initiative with the “For Official Use Only” mark, normal citizens cannot get access to the documents; even though they are not technically classified.  This mark prevents widespread public knowledge of this new program, which in itself presents a problem of civil liberties.  Not to mention the reduction of civil liberties in not being able to learn about the initiative, citizens are also at risk of having their liberties attacked based on the actual content of the document.

Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff explained at April’s annual RSA conference that he hopes that this 21st century Manhattan Project will lead to tech breakthroughs that will transfer over to the private sector.  Chertoff’s stance on better cyber security is that improvement will lead to less intellectual property and identity thefts.  He went on to explain that security and privacy are complementary to each other, rather than feuding ideas.

Despite early reports of hidden programs and the lack of more specific information in the new Cyber Security Initiative, I believe that it is a step in the right direction.  For years, analysts and security professionals have warned that the United State’s cyber security strategy was incredibly lackluster.  In the past six months, the Bush Administration has pushed for the hardening of government networks.  Large advances in the development of cyber security in the U.S. have appeared in many forms.  The U.S. Air Force is the the process of creating a cyber security element (see my article on AFCYBER for more information).  Additionally, President Bush has recently signed a new Executive Order to beef up the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA to monitor and patrol domestic networks.

Many private industry professionals moffed Secretary Chertoff and President Bush’s plans for increasing security.  Ray Kaplan, a founder of the RSA Conference believes that government has a large role to play in increasing cyber security and protection, particularly in grants for research.  Kaplan also details the fact that the U.S. government must released real threat metrics so the individual industries know how susceptible they are from attacks.  Presently, the information isn’t shared and there isn’t a common language that everyone agrees on.  It sounds like standardization of metrics dissemination of critical information is something that needs to be a priority for the government.

Update:  Upon further research I found Secretary Chertoff’s outline of the new initiative:

  • Reducing and consolidating the thousands of federal network Internet connections under the Trusted Internet Connections initiative. Reducing the number of connections to fewer than 100 could enable better control and monitoring of activities.
  • Using the certification and accreditation authority of the Office and Management and Budget under the Federal Information Security Management Act to ensure that agencies establish watch-and-warning capabilities on their networks on a 24/7 basis, to improve cyber incident detection and response capabilities.
  • Developing a faster process for detecting and responding to anomalous behavior on global networks, so that attacks can be spotted in a matter of minutes, not hours.
  • Fully developing the potential of Einstein, the system used by US-CERT to spot problems on global networks.
  • Ensuring the trust and assurance of information technology components acquired for critical systems in a global marketplace.
  • Better internal security and baking security into the culture of critical infrastructure organizations.
  • Improving methods and technology for using security to improve online privacy, because the Internet has become an essential part of the nation’s economy.


Posted by on May 17, 2008 in Security


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2 responses to “President Bush’s National Cyber Security Initiative- A 21st Century Manhattan Project

  1. russwbeck

    May 17, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    “Presently, the information isn’t shared and there isn’t a common language that everyone agrees on. It sounds like standardization of metrics dissemination of critical information is something that needs to be a priority for the government.”

    -You nailed that one right on the head Steve. At the Security Analysis and Risk Management conference, hosted by SARMA, that I just attended, they laid out their goals for us. One of their main goals was to create common lexicon across the profession and to create a common metric to judge everything on. Right now, someone could assess risk and get a risk score of 49.5. Someone else looks at it and gets a 5. Both were equally risky, just based on a scale of 100 and 10 respectively. I believe that the professional would benefit greatly from a common metric and there are people working towards it.


  2. retrogression

    June 2, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Retrogression says : I absolutely agree with this !


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