HOW WE'VE CHANGED/TECHNOLOGY: IT takes the point on security

'There is a much more positive view that we aren't just the systems geeks in the basement,' Linda Massaro says.

Henrik G. DeGyor

NIAP's Ron Ross says he's getting lots of calls these days, not only from federal agencies but also from state and local ones.

Lawrence W. Jackson

Feds focus on systems that will bolster the nation's defenses by better sharing, mining and securing data

An unintended but positive effect of Sept. 11 has been a higher priority for IT budget proposals, said Linda Massaro, former CIO at the National Science Foundation.

'The general responsiveness to requests for improving technology seems to have changed. There is a much more positive view that we aren't just the systems geeks in the basement,' Massaro said. She recently took leave from her CIO post to undertake the eGovernment Leadership Certificate Program at the National Defense University.

'There really is an important place for technology, and we need to have it safe and secure,' Massaro said.

Sept. 11 'didn't change what we're doing, but it has changed the level of what we're doing,' said Ron Ross, president of the National Information Assurance Partnership, a collaboration between the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Security Agency.

NIAP establishes security standards for equipment used by the government and encourages IT companies to build to those standards. It also oversees the testing laboratories that certify the equipment. Ross said he is seeing a far greater interest in security now.

'It really emphasized the need for agencies to attend to the security of their systems and networks,' Ross said. Not only is he getting more calls from federal agencies but also from state and local governments.

In May, Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va., published a Homeland Security Guide that outlined for IT companies how the emphasis on homeland security would shape spending in federal, state and local governments.

It identified hot technologies that would gain increased attention:
  • Knowledge management and information sharing

  • Data mining and analysis tools

  • Network infrastructure

  • Storage

  • Information security.

Data sharing and mining are integral components of the White House's national strategy for homeland security. In July, Steve Cooper, CIO of the Homeland Security Office, enunciated the White House strategy for mechanisms to defend against nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical attacks as well as cyberattacks.

Data gate-keepers
The administration wants a 'capture-once-and-reuse-many' approach to data gathering, Cooper said. The proposed Homeland Security Department would develop guidelines for other agencies that act as what he called the 'primary guardians' of data.

Data mining would become a central function for homeland security, he said.

'What we're talking about is pattern recognition, or use of software intelligent agents driven by algorithms that define themselves over time,' Cooper said. Such tools 'can marry statistically derived outcomes from known events to predictive models.'

Even before the department is authorized, its component agencies can expect more funds for information sharing. The president's fiscal 2003 budget proposed $722 million for technologies to help federal, state and local agencies share information.

The Defense Department got that message even earlier. In April, Defense CIO John P. Stenbit and undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics Pete Aldridge mandated a central registry of Extensible Markup Language components used by DOD units. Run by the Defense Information Systems Agency, the registry will set up information-sharing systems.

Patrick Fines of defense integrator FGM Inc. of Dulles, Va., is heading up the registry work for DISA. He said it 'increases the visibility of a common vocabulary' for DOD.

Another agency that got a jump on data sharing is the Customs Service. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, signed in May, allotted $150 million to Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to beef up border security infrastructure, computer security and IT development.

Money will also go into 'facilitating the flow of commerce at ports of entry, including improving and expanding programs for pre-enrollment and preclearance' of goods, the act said.

The money adds to an already healthy increase for border patrol efforts earmarked in the president's 2003 budget proposal. Border security agencies will get an extra $2.2 billion, or $11 billion in all, to hire port inspectors, buy container inspection equipment, design a system that records noncitizen entries and exits, and improve the Coast Guard's ability to track maritime activity.

Eyes on the roads

Doug Doan, senior vice president at New Technology Management Inc. of Reston, Va., which provides border patrol integration services to Customs, said the agency had begun prepping for terrorist attacks even before Sept. 11.

The planning let Customs shut down all borders within hours of the attacks, he said. Now, the agency is rolling out an advanced surveillance system that will track all vehicles entering and leaving the country.

Knowledge management-based targeting systems will 'concentrate attention to the most likely threats,' based on FBI, INS, local law enforcement and even Mexican government information, Doan said.

He said the surveillance system is completed for 30 ports of entry, and another 20 ports are being upgraded.

If Customs is folded into a Homeland Security Department, the infrastructure it has built at the borders can easily interface with information fed from other parts of the department or other agencies, Doan said.

The project has pushed a number of technologies into becoming cornerstones of a domestic defense plan.

Joab Jackson is a staff writer for Washington Technology, a Post Newsweek Tech Media publication.

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