July 3, 2009

NSA Tries To Protect Citizen’s Privacy

The Obama administration is carefully proceeding with a plan that  would use National Security Agency assistance to screen government  
computer traffic on private-sector networks, while attempting to protect the privacy of citizens.

The Einstein Program is an intrusion detection system that monitors  the network gateways of government departments and agencies in the  
United States for unauthorized traffic. The software was developed by the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team. The first version examined network traffic while the expansion in development could look at content.

According to three current and former government officials, AT&T is most likely to be the test site. Einstein 3 involves having  
telecommunication companies route the Internet traffic of civilian agencies through a monitoring box that searches for and blocks  
computer codes that are designed to penetrate, or otherwise compromise, networks.

The pilot program was set to launch in February, but senior administration officials say the Department of Homeland Security has  
not yet pulled the plan together.

Einstein 3 has sparked plenty of debate, stirring up issues about the privacy of citizens due to the use of National Security Agency  
technology, which is already being utilized on military networks.

Any involvement of the NSA, which is the cryptologic intelligence agency that is responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign  
communications, gives privacy and civil liberty groups who oppose the intrusion of the government agency into their private lives cause for  

Officials, who requested anonymity until the finalization of the program, said that while the technology will be provided by the NSA,  
the program will actually be run by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

They insist that the monitoring would be limited to only government systems and any Internet traffic moving in and out of them.

The Washington Post's website first reported the latest developments in the Einstein 3 program on Thursday.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters, "The NSA will provide technical assistance"¦We absolutely intend to use the  
technical resources, the substantial ones that NSA has."

Einstein 1, which is currently used by the DHS, is an automated program designed to detect intrusions into government networks.  
Einstein 2, which is now being implemented, is a more advanced detection system. A senior official said that it is used by about five  
of the higher risk government agencies.

The design of Einstein 3 is not just meant to merely detect intrusions, but to also stop them. It could actually prevent any  
malicious computer codes from making their way into government networks and stop any data theft from those systems.

Officials say the most important part of the monitoring and prevention program is not to focus on the content of e-mails, but rather any  
codes that might be attached to e-mails capable of infecting the system and stealing information.

Ari Schwartz, a vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said Thursday that privacy advocates want to make certain  
that as the government takes a more aggressive approach in the guarding of its computer systems, it follows laws and does not  
encroach on civil liberties by looking into private systems.

"There are a number of concerns that come with this process, the main one being how do you go about protecting the system in a way that  
insures you're not monitoring private systems," said Schwartz. "I don't have a full answer to that question. But the president made that  
pledge. That makes me more comfortable that it won't happen."

The planned deployment of the new Einstein 3 program was noted in the administration's recently released cyber security review. The 60-day  
review states that the government would continue to consult privacy and civil liberties groups as the program moves forward.

When releasing the review, Obama said that cyber threats are one of the more serious economic and national security challenges faced by  
the nation. He said that he would name a new cyber coordinator for the federal government.


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