Commerce team works on infrastructure protection

NTIA’s Larry
Irving says preventing attacks on the country’s infrastructure requires a
public-private partnership.


The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has until mid-November
to give President Clinton details on how it will fix vulnerabilities in the nation’s
information and communications infrastructure.


The Commerce Department bureau will rely on industry advisers to develop an
infrastructure plan within two years, said Larry Irving, assistant secretary for
communications and information and NTIA administrator.


The advisory team will assess the vulnerabilities of the infrastructure to computer
attack and more conventional sabotage methods; recommend ways to eliminate weaknesses;
propose ways to identify and prevent attacks; and draft a plan for reporting, containing
and rebuffing attacks as they occur, Irving said.


“What we are here for is to take prophylactic, protective measures to ensure the
system is as immune to attack as possible,” Irving said.


The infrastructure includes broadcast, cable, wireless, cellular, satellite, Internet
systems and other information services from hardware and software manufacturers, Irving
said.


Irving met with industry officials in Washington late last month to brief them on the
goals and get them involved. About 50 representatives from such companies as AT&T
Corp., GTE Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., TRW Inc. and Ameritech Corp. of Chicago heard his
pitch.


NTIA officials want to ensure the infrastructure’s strength without giving away
strategic information to potential enemies, Irving said.


“We’re not planning on pulling in a lot of proprietary information and having
some database here in government that somebody can hack into and find out where your most
vulnerable parts are,” Irving said.


Instead, NTIA wants to have a discussion on where the vulnerabilities exist and then
get back to industry representatives on how to eliminate them, Irving said.


Industry officials have been squeamish about sharing sensitive company data with
competitors for fear potential adversaries might get hold of it. Such information would
have to be shared when determining overall weaknesses in communications networks, for
instance, Irving said.


NTIA officials said they would try to protect the data from being misused, either by
hackers or competitors.


“We’re going to have to work with you to find ways to get this level of
information we need without putting you at risk,” Irving said.


When President Clinton signed the Decision Directive on Critical Infrastructure
Protection in May, he called for the establishment of an interagency program to address
the protection of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Clinton assigned
Commerce as the lead agency responsible for the communications and systems infrastructure.
Secretary William M. Daley, in turn, designated NTIA to carry out the details.


The plan’s success depends upon a strong public-private partnership because the
targets of attacks on the U.S. infrastructure would inevitably include both public- and
private-sector facilities, Irving said.    

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