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U.S. Internet security plan revamped

Consolidation of Internet connections loses favor under Obama administration; standard security tools deployed

By , Network World
February 11, 2010 08:01 AM ET

Network World - The U.S. government is shifting its strategy for defending federal networks against a rising tide of hacking attacks launched by foreign governments and criminals.

Instead of focusing on consolidating external Internet connections that civilian agencies operate -- which number in the thousands -- the Office of Management and Budget is directing agencies to deploy a standard set of security tools and processes on all of their Internet connections.

The shift represents a new direction for the federal Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) Initiative, which was launched by the Bush administration in November 2007.

The Bush administration's original goal was to reduce the number of external Internet connections operated by civilian agencies from more than 8,000 down to 50. Standard security software -- including antivirus, firewall, intrusion detection and traffic monitoring -- was to be deployed on the remaining connections.

The Obama administration has changed the emphasis of the TIC Initiative, focusing more on security controls than on network consolidation.

"Despite the whole TIC Initiative, there are probably as many points of Internet connection as there used to be," says Diana Gowen, senior vice president of Qwest Government Services. "The new administration is less concerned with the number, and more concerned about getting them protected."

Gowen pointed out that the Defense Department has an ongoing procurement to purchase more than 4,000 Internet connections worldwide. "So clearly the focus isn't on consolidation," she adds.

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Bill White, vice president of federal sales at Sprint, says he believes the TIC Initiative will eventually result in consolidation of federal networks, although not down to 50 Internet connection points.

"Out of the gate, we thought there would be significant consolidation," White admits. "At the end of the day, I think there still will be. But I think the agencies are becoming more realistic and flexible about consolidation."

Federal agencies are under the gun to meet the requirements of the TIC Initiative in 2010, as well as to receive the benefits of the Department of Homeland Security's companion Einstein software, which provides another layer of cyberdefense. (See "Einstein 2: U.S. government's 'enlightening' new cybersecurity weapon".)

Reordering priorities

The TIC Initiative was conceived to reduce the number of external Internet access points operated by civilian agencies, establish baseline security practices for the remaining access points, and migrate agency traffic to flow through the approved access points.

"What we've done is not really change what the goals are, but simply reorder them," explains Sean Donelan, program manager of network and infrastructure security at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). "We talk about establishing the baseline security practices first for all the approved TIC access points…Then all of the agency connectivity will come through these access points."

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