Enter the National Cyber Alert System

One of the newest “systems” on the government block is the early warning system that alerts those in the know to potential Internet risks. It is not only timely, but also much needed. With the rampant use of Web-based applications and computer networks, government agencies, and those doing business with them, need to be alert to such security risks.

Part of this is due to the government being a high-level target for terrorism, including cyber-terrorism. Hackers are commonplace and their wrath has been felt across the board. Additionally, serious threats such as the Slammer and Blaster worms make everyone nervous.

Cyber attacks do more than just slow down networks and suspend e-mail. When systems go down, business generally comes to a standstill, resulting in a loss of productivity and revenue. Such detrimental occurences sting, whether you operate in the public or private sector.

The system is known as the National Cyber Alert System and was unveiled on Jan. 28, 2004. US-CERT, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (www.us-cert.gov), is an actively operating partnership that combines the talents of both the government and the private sector.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber Security Division (NCSD) is the major player in this initiative. NCSD was established in September 2003 after President Bush said that protecting the national Internet infrastructure needed to be placed at the top of the priority list regarding national security.

According to the US-CERT Web site, “The National Cyber Alert System warns of cyber threats and vulnerabilities, and offers advice and solutions.”

The broad system is aimed at protecting what we refer to as “traditional systems,” such as electrical and communications. It is comprised of four categories: Technical Cyber Security Alerts; Cyber Security Alerts; Cyber Security Bulletins; and Cyber Security Tips. This is more or less a system designed to relay information to the general public and to government officials.

Perhaps the most prevalent basis for the creation of such a system is that an attack on the Internet, one that would halt its operation and bring Web traffic to a standstill, would be detrimental to the government (and everyone else) on numerous levels. At first glance, one may think that such a cyber attack would only affect e-commerce but the ramifications are far more sweeping.

This free service is a blessing to many and is far reaching in its inherent abilities. It will monitor various areas of the Internet and based upon what it sees, it will then alert the proper officials of suspicious activity. Because this system is available to absolutely anyone who wants to participate, it has the potential to protect not only technical gurus, but occasional home users as well. Anyone with an e-mail address can sign up to receive bulletins and alerts, something that prior to this system was only available to those who paid for it.

The government has chosen to answer the continual cyber threats that loom on the horizon by offering this coordinated system, and the private sector has their own solutions as well. But, as times change, so does technology. As hackers become more proficient, so have the vendors offering protection against them. Symantec’s Deep Sight Threat Management System is a software package that operates along the same lines as the government offering, with the benefit of working around the clock, as opposed to warnings issued by e-mail.

The Deep Sight package can be customized to fit the specific needs of the organization using it. Yet another difference between the government and private side systems is that the private ones must be purchased (big factor there), installed and run on individual networks.

The power and prowess of Deep Sight is immense, but it is not all that practical for individuals or small companies that have only a few PCs on a small-scale system. That is why the government’s solution is so important; it helps bring high-tech protection to the masses.

Another partnership created to combat and prevent cyber crime is the National Cyber Security Partnership. This organization also partners the private sector with the public, with the goal of aiding in protecting our national IT infrastructure. You can read about the group and their missions at www.cyberpartnership.org.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.