Wednesday, April 19, 2006

InfraGard and the Coming "Digital Storm"

On February 26, 1998, using a $64 million appropriation from Congress, Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh created a new multiagency group called the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC, pronounced "nip-see"). According to NIPC's first director, Michael Vatis, the group was based at the FBI because of the need for the agency's investigative resources when an unauthorized intrusion is detected.

Later that spring, on May 22, 1998, President Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 63, which charged NIPC with the responsibility of assessing the potential for cyberthreats, conducting investigations, issuing warnings, and evaluating infrastructure vulnerabilities. As designed by Reno and Freeh, NIPC will employ more than 500 people around the country; Vatis told Wired magazine in the fall of 1998 that "[a]t least half of our staff will come from the Secret Service, National Security Agency, CIA, NASA, Department of Defense, state and local law enforcement, Department of Treasury, Department of Energy, and the Department of Transportation."

A central focus of NIPC has been to expand and build upon a program called InfraGard, which was developed by the Cleveland FBI office in the summer of 1996. On its website, the FBI describes InfraGard as follows:

InfraGard is a cooperative effort to exchange information between the business community, academic institutions, the FBI, and other government agencies to ensure the protection of the information infrastructure through the referral and dissemination of information regarding illegal intrusions, disruptions, and exploited vulnerabilities of information systems.

By the beginning of 2001, all fifty-six FBI field offices around the country were running InfraGard chapters, and more than 518 private businesses had signed up. In order to persuade companies to participate, NIPC provides them with a secure website on which information is posted and secure e-mail for exchanging information about intrusions and threats.

The FBI is steadily increasing its capability for gathering, storing, and cross-matching the detailed information it receives from the business community. As an extension of its work with NIPC, the FBI asked Congress in 2000 to appropriate $75 million to upgrade the Bureau's information technology. Under a program dubbed "Digital Storm," the FBI is planning to replace all of its analog wiretap equipment with digital intercepts, running off of specially modified PCs. As the FBI makes the transition to digital technology, it will gain the ability to do keyword searches on thousands of pages of wiretap transcripts; currently, agents must wade through lengthy audio tapes or hard-copy transcripts. The upgrade from analog to digital technology will also improve the FBI's data mining capabilities for the information contained in its myriad databases.

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