Report: Problems stymie U.S. cyberspy protection

Technical and privacy issues are plaguing the U.S. government's work on the overarching system to protect federal computer networks from cyberspies, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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Natalie Weinstein
2 min read

Twin obstacles of technical problems and privacy issues are holding back the overarching system created to protect the federal government's computers from cyberspies, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"The latest complete version of the system, known as Einstein, won't be fully installed for 18 months, according to current and former officials, seven years after it was first rolled out," the newspaper reports. "This system doesn't protect networks from attack. It only raises the alarm after one has happened."

The privacy concerns stem from the National Security Agency's acknowledgment of its warrantless wiretapping of phone calls and e-mail that started after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. AT&T is supposed to test new Einstein technology, but the Journal reported that the company sought Justice Department's approval first. The Obama administration has OK'd the testing, an official told the newspaper.

According to the Journal, these are the three phases of the Einstein program:

• Einstein 1: Monitors Internet traffic flowing in and out of federal civilian networks. Detects abnormalities that might be cyberattacks. Is unable to block attacks.

• Einstein 2: In addition to looking for abnormalities, detects viruses and other indicators of attacks based on signatures of known incidents, and alerts analysts immediately. Also can't block attacks.

• Einstein 3: Under development. Based on technology developed for a National Security Agency program called Tutelage, it detects and deflects security breaches. Its filtering technology can read the content of e-mail and other communications.

The Department of Homeland Security began work on the project in 2003, adapting it from a Pentagon program that watched military networks, former national security officials told the Journal.

A Homeland Security representative told the Journal the phases are "incremental improvements" that also safeguard privacy and civil liberties. "We don't want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good," the representative told the newspaper.

Homeland Security is the only department using Einstein 2 at this point, the newspaper said, but it is expected to cover most of the government in another 18 months.