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U.S. creates cyberalert system

The Department of Homeland Security announces an e-mail alert system aimed at informing two groups of citizens--technical experts and the average home user--of potential online threats.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday an e-mail alert system aimed at informing two groups of citizens--technical experts and the average home user--of potential online threats.

The system, known as the National Cyber Alert System, will be maintained and administered by the U.S. national computer emergency response team, or US-CERT, but it relies on the expertise of many security companies, said Amit Yoran, director of National Cyber Security Division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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"Part of the focus of the National Cyber Alert System is to consolidate some of the information sources and come up with a national perspective," he said. "This is one of the building blocks and collaboration points for the public-private partnerships."

The alert system is the United States' first nationally coordinated warning system for Internet threats and vulnerabilities. The system will take information from a variety of public and private sources and issue warnings, bulletins and how-to notifications.

Such cooperation between the government and private industry has been the rallying cry of the security community and federal officials since the Bush Administration began developing the National Strategy to Secure Cyber Space, an effort that was begun a year ago.

While the strategy has been criticized as being soft on an industry keen to avoid regulation, several administration officials talked tough at the National Cyber Security Summit in December. At that event, officials met with technology industry experts to form plans in five areas: awareness for home users and small businesses, cybersecurity early warning, corporate governance and security, technical standards, and building better security into software.

As expected, the new alert service kicks off two days after the latest e-mail virus, MyDoom, began spreading. The epidemic underscores the need for a system to alert and inform Internet users. The mass-mailing computer virus took off on Monday, spreading faster than any previous virus, security experts said this week.

PC users can sign up for the new alert service online by going to the US-CERT Web site. The site offers four categories of e-mail alerts, two for nontechnical people and two others for a technical audience.

The technical mailings consist of a biweekly bulletin describing new vulnerabilities and highlighting new patches and workarounds, and a technical alert describing the latest threats. One of the nontechnical alerts for mainstream users describes current threats and gives cybersecurity tips containing how-to information, and the other gives advice for the home and small-business user.

In addition, the site offers ways for PC users and technical experts to report incidents and vulnerabilities.

Yoran stressed that the alert system is not done.

"This is not the national alert system in its final format," he said. "It is very much an iterative process."