The US federal government is locking down its networks through an ambitious and fast-paced effort to eliminate connections to the Internet that are vulnerable to attack.
In the past nine months, the feds have reduced the number of external network connections they operate from more than 8,000 to about 2,700. By next year, the feds plan to have fewer than 100, many of them shared by multiple agencies.
It's an approach experts say large private-sector organizations would do well to emulate.
The federal government's remaining Internet access points will have state-of-the-art security policies and managed security services, including antivirus, firewall, intrusion detection and traffic monitoring.
Bush administration officials say the consolidation effort will help agencies fend off a barrage of viruses, worms, denial of service and other attacks, while improving their ability to respond when a hacker gets through its multilayered defenses.
"It will reduce our risk," says Karen Evans, administrator for E-Government and IT in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). "We will have better situational awareness for what's happening on our networks so we can take actions that will help enhance the trust of the American people that we are protecting their information."
OMB announced the Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) initiative in November. It joins several other administration efforts designed to bolster cybersecurity, including encrypting data on laptops and migrating agencies to a standard desktop operating system configuration.
The nation's leading carriers -- AT&T, Level 3, Qwest, Sprint and Verizon -- are drafting proposals due in mid-August to provide managed security services for the remaining Internet gateways. The government plans to award contracts in November to some or all of these carriers to support the TIC initiative.
"The federal government has got an onslaught of cyberattacks from foreign entities, and it needs to do something pretty quickly," says Diana Gowen, senior vice president and general manager of Qwest Government Services. "This whole TIC initiative has caused civilian agencies who one could argue are not as security savvy as the intelligence community and the Defense Department to really button things up."
"Internet access, if it's not managed properly, can provide security risks," says Susan Zeleniak, vice president of Verizon Federal. "The government is looking for a way to consolidate that access to make it easier and more efficient to apply appropriate security. . . . The government will see the benefits of this immediately."
Industry observers expect the TIC initiative to continue regardless of who wins the election in November.
"Cybersecurity is such a crucial issue across the whole economy, not just the government," says Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president at FedSources, a market research firm. "Everyone recognizes that there are so many threats out there. The more points of failure you have, the more likelihood you are going to have a failure. The TIC initiative makes sense."