NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Confusing Federal Response To Internet Attacks

March 9, 2000

On August 16, 1999, some 2,200 U.S. computer systems -- including those at more than 30 universities -- were attacked and forced off the Internet. Just weeks later, academics and elite computer security firms began spreading the word that the "denial of service" attack was a clear and immediate danger to the Internet.

But it was more than a month before officials at the National Infrastructure Protection Center -- which is responsible for national computer security matters -- learned of the incident and three more months before they concluded it was a threat worthy of warning the public.

  • At the end of 1999, vandals infected large computer systems, laying the groundwork for a series of attacks in February 2000 which slowed the global Internet by 20 percent and shut down some of the world's most popular websites, as well as the FBI's home page.
  • The director of the NIPC -- an interagency fusion of federal, local, and international organizations based at the FBI -- claims the organization's late response allowed the private sector to prepare for the worst while avoiding public hysteria.
  • Experts report that one of the reasons for confusion at the NIPC is that other government agencies -- including the Secret Service, Transportation Department and Treasury Departments -- refuse to work with it because the FBI has a long-standing reputation for not sharing information with others.
  • Additionally, friction and turf battles are said to be hampering cooperative efforts.
  • On the other hand, some companies complain that they remain uneasy about government efforts to police the Internet.

Critics say the President's plan for greater Internet security has created so many entities gathering data on Internet vulnerabilities that it is causing confusion. Clinton is now seeking $37 million in new spending for cyber-security.

Source: M.J. Zuckerman, "How the Government Failed to Stop the World's Worst Internet Attack," USA Today, March 9, 2000.


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