USDA standardizes on antivirus suite

The Agriculture Department has standardized on the McAfee Total Virus Defense suite from Network Associates Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., 'on every one of the machines and network servers' in USDA's Common Computing Environment, program manager Scott Snover said.

That means nearly 50,000 desktop and notebook PCs and servers at more than 3,000 offices.

The suite protects the common architecture shared by the Farm Service Agency, the Rural Development Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service'USDA's three main service delivery groups. 'They have a presence in virtually every county in the United States,' Snover said.

Four years ago each agency had its own systems. The Farm Service Agency was using IBM System/36 minicomputers, NRCS had Unix platforms and the Rural Development Agency ran Microsoft Windows 3.1 on aging PCs.

'Getting all three of them to talk was a challenge,' Snover said.

The first step was collocating as many of the separate offices as possible and putting them on a single network. That was difficult because many had no fiber-optic backbone available.

The resulting WAN now consists of frame relay connections of up to 64 Kbps between offices with from four to several dozen employees.

'They are connected, but not robustly,' Snover said. 'We are limited in what we can do.'
USDA is acquiring routers to implement T1 connections and virtual private networks, 'but that is not in place today,' he said.

What USDA does have in place are 45,000 desktop and notebook PCs and higher-end systems from Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp. and Gateway Inc., all running Windows NT and Microsoft Office 97. 'So we do have a common desktop environment,' Snover said.

Umbrella protection

About 2,900 network servers run Windows 2000 and Microsoft Active Directory.

The manufacturers delivered the hardware with the McAfee antivirus software installed. The suite includes VirusScan for desktops, NetShield for file servers, GroupShield for e-mail servers and WebShield at Internet gateways.

The diverse network environment that had to be brought under a common umbrella is characteristic of the federal market, said Ryan McGee, Network Associates' director of product marketing. Commercial enterprises tend to be more homogeneous, he said.

The company's virus signature library holds about 59,000 signatures and is updated with about 50 new ones each week. Update files are distributed to USDA's Unix servers, 'which are still limping along,' Snover said. Users then update their desktop systems from the servers.

When all servers and network management tools are in place next summer, virus updates will not require any user action. Even so, the USDA systems survived recent high-profile virus outbreaks such as ILOVEYOU and Melissa.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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