By J. Nicholas Hoover
Nov. 8, 2005
With a shrinking budget, the Advanced Research Projects Agency's
cyber-security arm has to leverage internal expertise with that of
academia and industry to get research done and have products
All last week, scores of American border agents were furiously typing
Blackberry messages to their Canadian counterparts. They weren't
sharing hockey scores. The 40 agents were taking part in a
secure-messaging project, just one of many technology projects coming
out of the Homeland Security Department's Advanced Research Projects
Agency's cyber-security arm.
Right now, the Department of Homeland Security doesn't even allow
laptops to have wireless access when employees travel. But the agency,
a colleague of the Internet-inventing Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency, is planning for implementation of secure hand-held
devices with text, audio and video. With spam prevention.
At ARPA, cyber-security doesn't just mean fighting off pesky viruses.
Instead, the group focuses on more the larger threats of terrorism,
organized crime and economic espionage. Other ARPA projects in the
-- a Web-based tool for network administrators to perform
self-assessments of their systems' cyber security.
-- a tool that automatically tracks down and eliminates bots and bot
-- a secure repository of information that would give researchers and
affected companies attack traffic data including packet traces,
attack topology, intrusion detection, and firewall log data within
a week of a large scale attack.
-- an overhaul of the domain name system to integrate security against
certain types of attacks into the infrastructure of the Internet.
Sweden is already implementing these specifications.
-- more secure protocols for the Internet's routing infrastructure.
Partners like Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks are working on
these, but vendors can't agree on solutions and ISPs don't yet have
customers clamoring for them.
The agency's work is limited by a paltry $16.7 million budget for
2006, down from $18 million this year. Still, its cyber-security group
leverages internal expertise with that of academia and industry to get
research done and have products commercialized and implemented as
quickly as possible. Agency-wide cuts have forced a transition from
pure research to more applied research.
"We're very focused on working with venture capitalists and commercial
interests to make sure implementation happens," says Douglas Maughan,
the cyber-security group's program director. He says some of the
projects, like the domain name system overhaul, are ready to go live.
"We've got some clothes on the emperor and it's definitely time to put
him out into the street."
One of the agency's newest big concerns is thin clients. The
government has plans in the works for widespread deployments, and the
National Security Agency, along with a private partner, has recently
developed a relatively secure Linux-based thin client called NetTop2.
However, attackers have already found ways to circumvent the operating
system and gain access to servers, so more advanced security measures
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