Big Brother isn't really watching you

I must admit to being a tad sceptical of the need for a Centre for Critical Infrastructure Protection when it was first announced late last year. It seemed unnecessary when you consider all the commercial ventures already providing information about online threats.

I shall never complain about Auckland's weather again. That's right, I've spent the weekend in Wellington.

Don't get me wrong, the city is gorgeous; but frankly the weather sucks. I know. I used to live in Wales and that's weather you emigrate to get away from.

It should come as no surprise to anyone then that Wellington boasts the country's only Welsh restaurant. I was too afraid to eat there in case all they served was cheese on toast, but it looked great from the other side of the road.

I also learned that traffic wardens are the scourge of civilisation everywhere you go.

"Be careful where you park – the meter maids are paid a commission for each scalp they get," was the cheerful comment from one man at the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau), and it was kind of appealing to me that even the country's spies are at the mercy of the parking ticket.

While in the capital I met with Mike Spring and Jay Garden who will be heading up the CCIP (Centre for Critical Infrastructure Protection), a newly instituted part of the GCSB which will help safeguard the country's IT infrastructure from cyber-attacks.

I must admit to being a tad sceptical of the need for a CCIP when it was first announced late last year. It seemed self-serving and not a little unnecessary when you consider all the commercial ventures already providing information about online threats. Did we really need to give the GCSB a million dollars a year to run Virus Watch?

But I was assured there is more to the unit than that. Neither Garden, who will manage the unit, nor Spring, who continues with his current role within GCSB as director of information systems security and doubles as Garden's boss, are interested in simply adding more noise to the clamour about security.

"We're not going to be a funnel to feed information to people about viruses; we don't want to do what's already being done," says Garden. "If you want warnings about such things, sign up with a commercial provider."

Spring says he has met with a number of consultants in the security field and is confident they have come away from the meetings feeling less threatened by CCIP. Neither does CCIP want to take over companies' security responsibilities. Spring says chief executives are still charged with maintaining their own security "and we're not about to try to do that for them".

Instead the unit will work on three fronts, one of which is its 24x7 function as the country's first line of defence against threats to our electronic world. Value add is one of those terms I really loathe, but in this instance, Spring appears quite right when he uses it. Rather than simply tell us "be careful about viruses and password protection", which is no news at all, the CCIP will expand beyond monitoring agency to be a training facilitator as well. Spring is interested in filtering out all the extraneous nonsense ("Internet Worm Loose: End of World Nigh") in favour of offering practical help in such situations. And CCIP will work with infrastructure providers, such as telcos and electricity generators, to better secure their information pathways and data handling skills. I believe he is genuine in his claim that "we're here to help, however we can".

CCIP is also working with counterpart agencies around the world. But rather than duplicate the work of CERT, the US-based internet security alert agency, Spring says the CCIP will extend beyond CERT's brief. CERT says its role is to "study internet security vulnerabilities, handle computer security incidents, publish security alerts, research long-term changes in networked systems, and develop information and training to help you improve security at your site". Sounds a good start.

Interestingly, the Australian government has decided not to centralise its cyber-threat capability in a single unit but has spread responsibility for it out amongst a number of departments. Whether the different approach yields different results is one to check back on.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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