June 25, 2002 10:30 AM PDT

IT pros: U.S. government at cyber risk

WASHINGTON--Information technology professionals think a major attack on U.S. government computer systems is coming and that the government is not adequately prepared for it, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Nearly half of IT professionals believe that the U.S. government will be hit with a "major cyberattack" in the next 12 months, according to the survey, conducted for the Business Software Alliance. BSA President Richard Holleyman, announcing the survey results at an e-government conference here, said an attack could range from a discrete attempt to get at a select group of highly sensitive data to a broad-ranging attack on multiple systems.

The most important step that needs to be taken is to make sure that even if government systems are breached, the data itself is encrypted and protected.

The government's own past surveys have also given many government agencies flunking grades when it comes to computer security.

But officials at the press conference cautioned, "If we think technology is a silver bullet, we're wrong."

"It's got to be used with policies and procedures," said Bill Conner, CEO of BSA member Entrust, which sells IT security software and services.

The government should be devoting at least as much time, energy and money to cybersecurity as it did to the Year 2000 bug, Conner said.

"We put a lot of emphasis on airplane security and barricades, but what about flight plans," he said.

The BSA has been meeting with government to address the problems, Holleyman said, and has encouraged Congress to include cybersecurity in the duties being assigned to the proposed cabinet-level homeland defense agency. But he said he did not think the "sense of urgency" has been attached to the concerns.


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