US plans $US40m Y2K database

The US government will create a massive database of information about global preparations for Y2K, with running updates from various countries and industries as the date rollover to January 1 happens in each time zone.

The project will cost an estimated $US40 million in taxpayer money.

US year 2000 czar John Koskinen, speaking yesterday to a US Senate committee, outlined plans to develop the database and coordinate the flow of information, and discussed how lagging countries will be assisted in preparation efforts and how accurate information will be conveyed when January 1 actually arrives.

"The public obviously needs to know what is happening," said Koskinen, chairman of the US President's Year 2000 Conversion Council, who also noted the need for governments and industries to have access to accurate, timely information about what is happening in their own countries and around the world.

He was the first witness before the US Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. The hearing was called at least in part to justify the $40 million price tag of the Y2K Information Coordination Center (ICC), described in a committee statement as a "crisis management facility designed for real-time communication between government agencies, and the public and private sectors regarding Y2K-related problems". The committee session also was aimed at exploring potential threats to the US infrastructure borne by high technology, including year 2000, information warfare and cyber terrorism.

The ICC is expected to start shutting down in March of next year after officials monitor how computers handle the February 29, 2000, leap-year date. But the mass of information gathered by the centre will be used by other US government agencies as the world moves into what Koskinen and others believe will be an era of other high-tech threats.

The ICC's work is intended to quell rumours and to keep the flow of accurate information going via an Internet site, a toll-free information telephone line and regular updates to the media. The goal is to issue updates every four to six hours starting at noon December 31 on the US east coast as New Zealand's time switches to 2000.

The ICC is working to set up industry information clearing houses, where preparation data will be augmented with what is happening to various companies as the date change occurs. Industry-specific "help desks" will monitor what is going on and offer assistance where it is needed, Koskinen said.

Access to raw data will not be freely given, Koskinen said, because it will be important to keep information in context. For instance, if Y2K-related problems occur in Cleveland, it will be necessary to determine if the problems are isolated to that city alone or whether they are widespread.

When problems do arise, the ICC's industry specific "help desks" and mass of information will be used to help let the public know how long power or other outages and the like might last.

"I think everyone is going to know whether you're operating or not, so it's going to be hard to hide," Koskinen said, adding that the tricky issue will be figuring out how long outages are likely to continue.

The centre is also coordinating with other countries and industries, Koskinen said, adding that the European Community recently has begun to work harder on the year 2000 issue there. Member nations will be meeting in September to discuss contingency efforts.

Generally, the ICC and such groups are advising that government and industry leaders in various countries who are monitoring results of the year 2000 rollover in their own nations also be in close touch with neighbouring countries. If one country has widespread power outages, it might be possible to seek help from neighbouring countries, he noted.

Attention to the date change and the computer problem is expected to lead to "additional malicious activity" that could include episodes of computer hacking and terrorism by organised crime groups, militaries of nations generally considered not to be good global neighbours and people who place undue significance on the arrival of 2000, according to hearing testimony.

It's also likely that the effort to replace non-compliant software codes will result in miscreants planting malicious code, bringing problems along with the date change, witnesses said.

Beyond the year 2000 date change, breaches of computer systems and the infrastructure via cyber terrorism will continue, and possibly worsen, the panellists suggested. They provided general information, making references to well-publicised breaches and threats, but declined under questioning from committee vice chairman Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, to offer much in the way of specifics.

Dodd asked for an "informal briefing" within the next few weeks so that US lawmakers can be given updates about such threats.

The Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem's Internet site is http://www.senate.gov/~y2kThe President's Year 2000 Conversion Council's site is http://www.y2k.gov/

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