Viruses, worms, hackers, spam, disgruntled employees, flawed software, terrorists-cyberspace is rife with danger, but defending information has some pitfalls of its own. Information security specialists are the front-line warriors in this battlespace, and they may be making important decisions about which weapons to use based on misconceptions often promulgated by security product vendors. Industry experts have taken a closer look at some commonly held information assurance beliefs and claim that many are little more than myths.
Rapid technological change is a double-edged sword. The latest developments that allow faster computing and increased data flow also put critical national infrastructures within reach of any potential adversary with a modem.
The military is not the only entity that knows information is a powerful weapon. Companies that both develop and depend on communications technologies now recognize that strength increases with numbers and cooperation benefits individual firms and protects overall economic growth. Despite the competitive nature of commerce, information operations have moved from the public to the private sector.
The U.S. government is poised to adopt a new encryption standard that will replace existing ciphers used in secure, nonsecret communications. The algorithm is compatible across a variety of software and hardware applications and in limited-memory environments such as smart cards.
Passwords will become passé as the military moves toward fingerprint reading, iris scanning and voice recognition as gateways to many of its information and weapon systems. As a result of legislation enacted last year, plans are moving forward to use biometrics for identity verification wherever possible. The goal of the coordinated effort is to shore up information assurance throughout the armed forces by replacing the vulnerable password system with technologies that identify "you as you," according to security experts.
Smart hardware will allow administrators to foil intruders and internal attackers before they can cripple computer systems. The firewall, embedded within a network interface card, creates a tamper-resistant security layer that cannot be subverted or deactivated like traditional software-based defenses. When installed on desktop computers and servers throughout an organization, the cards selectively permit or deny certain types of activities at the department, office or individual levels.
A security management system allows administrators to track computer network threats by providing near-real-time alerts from remote sensors on the network. Software agents, tailored to be expert monitors of specific programs and devices, use rules sets to sift through data before sending reports to a central management engine that tracks and correlates the information. Thousands of potential alerts then are analyzed and reduced to one or two dozen incidents that require immediate attention.
Balancing function against security may prove to be the tightrope act that determines the future of information assurance. Government and commercial experts are weighing the convenience and capabilities of new technologies against their vulnerability to the burgeoning threat from all corners of cyberspace.
Protecting warfighting information technology systems requires the same situational awareness for networks that battlefield commanders rely on to maneuver forces to outflank and engage an enemy at maximum effective range. Without a near-real-time picture of the U.S. Defense Department's Global Information Grid, the bubble could burst, leaving in question warfighter network defenses.
The U.S. Defense Department is moving ahead with plans to engage Reserve forces further to protect and defend military information systems. The approach takes advantage of available expertise by making it easier for civilian information assurance specialists to put their skills to work for the military.
The U.S. Air Force is researching an information assurance system that incorporates the human factor into protecting data. The system would help analysts charged with monitoring networks identify potential breaches more easily by removing clutter and presenting them with a clear assessment of the danger level.
The U.S. Defense Department has established a facility to evaluate and integrate biometric identification systems for military and federal agencies. Charged with multiple responsibilities, this center also serves as a place where government, academia and industry can share their expertise and knowledge.
U.S. government computer scientists are studying how computer grids react to volatile conditions to understand how events such as virus attacks, sudden changes in workload and cyberattacks can affect linked groups of hundreds or thousands of geographically dispersed machines.
While various Internet consumer privacy protection bills steadily make their way through U.S. congressional committees, businesses are taking a stab at self-governance. The work is based on the premise that commercial relationships demand trust, and the best way to gain customers' trust is to assure consumers that the information they provide, both automatically and intentionally, will not be shared without their permission. However, unless Web site visitors read published privacy policies, they may not be aware of how much of their personal data can be shared or sold.
It is hard to resist the Big Brother analogy to describe law enforcement agencies' use of new technologies for catching lawbreakers. From thermal scanners that monitor the amount of heat emanating from a suspect's house to hidden cameras that catch red-light runners to software that leads to the capture of cybercriminals, new capabilities have brought with them new privacy questions.
A fast-moving squad of government and industry computer security experts is preparing to swing into action. This computer-security-expert assist team is structured to support federal government agencies by providing ways to protect information technology systems and networks. The team's core will be industry members who are proficient in identifying and alleviating complex information system and infrastructure vulnerabilities.
A software analysis tool allows military and civilian managers of government facilities to evaluate vulnerability to terrorist attacks quickly. Now being installed at all U.S. military installations, the program calculates the risks that a variety of extremist organizations pose to a base or building, taking into account known tactics, methods of attack, preferred weapons and capabilities. This data is converted into graphics and three-dimensional models that can be stored and incorporated into reports.
The U.S. State Department is conducting "junkyard dog" network penetration tests and vulnerability assessments at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. Simultaneously, a network intrusion detection program will provide rapid warning of unauthorized access to the department's far-flung sensitive information systems.
A software-based access control system offers administrators and planners a secure option for wireless and online communications. Capable of working with legacy technologies, the scalable program forms a layered defense against unauthorized entry or use of network components.