Experts: Cybersecurity needs funding, organization

Members of the security industry and academia told a U.S. House of Representatives committee Wednesday that significant funding for research and the coordination of private and public sector efforts will be needed to combat the threat of cyberterrorism.

Admitting that no one really knows the scope or nature of potential attacks that could strike both private and government computer networks, the House Committee on Science's chairman Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican from New York, called for a coordinated effort to evaluate the risks at hand and develop the necessary technology and policies to prevent -- or at least minimize -- acts of cyberterrorism.

Such action requires funding, said witnesses who testified at the hearing.

"For historical reasons, no federal funding agency has assumed responsibility for supporting basic research in this area" of computer security, said William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering and a professor at the University of Virginia. "Because no funding agency feels it owns this problem, relatively small, sporadic research projects have been funded, but no one has questioned the underlying assumptions on cybersecurity that were established in the 1960s mainframe environment."

It's not so much that the research community needs a lot of funding, Wulf explained, but sustained funding, since few researchers will embark on a project without knowing that money will be made available to complete it.

Terry Benzel, vice president of advanced security research with Network Associates Inc. agreed, calling for a dramatic increase in federal funding of research. Government dollars are particularly in need these days since the current economic slump has forced companies to slash their own research and development budgets. Even Network Associates -- which has seen an uptick in its stock price since the Sept. 11 attacks that pointed to an increased need for security -- can't invest as much as it used to in research, Benzel said.

Another issue among security researchers is legislation that prevents them from examining technology without fear of retribution. For example, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it a federal felony to circumvent security mechanisms even when done in the name of research, said Eugene Spafford, director of Purdue University's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. Intellectual property laws also prohibit researchers from taking advantage of things like computer algorithms in their research, he said.

As both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate grapple with the question of who, if any one person, organization, or agency, should be in charge of cybersecurity, members of the panel expressed differing views on the question. Wulf supported putting that responsibility under the newly created U.S. Office of Homeland Security, while Spafford suggested a coordinating body made up of representatives from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. National Security Agency, and others could oversee security research to ensure it heads in the right direction. Benzel voiced support for developing a new organization altogether.

The House Committee on Science can be found on the Web at http://www.house.gov/science/.

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