Secret Service expands cybersecurity task forces
IDG News Service - WASHINGTON -- Businesses in large cities across the U.S. will soon have a chance to send their IT specialists to quarterly government-sponsored meetings to compare notes with their peers on cybersecurity.
Companies need not worry that they might risk exposing secrets about their systems or about successful attacks against their systems, say members of the government organization facilitating the meetings. That organization is the U.S. Secret Service, and it prides itself on secrecy.
Nine Secret Service offices across the country, including those in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, are preparing to roll out their own Electronic Crimes Task Forces (ECTF), patterned on New York's, which has been in place for seven years, said Secret Service officials who participated in Sectors, a cyberterrorism conference in Washington, this week.
The task forces operating in New York and in Washington (see story) are designed to foster open discussions on security and to help companies tighten cybersecurity through cooperation with other companies, academics and government IT specialists, said Bob Weaver, the assistant special agent in charge of the task force in New York.
The task forces have worked so well that Congress mandated that they be set up in every major U.S. city under the Patriot Act, passed earlier this year in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Weaver said. In addition, an appropriations bill now awaiting President Bush's signature includes $17 million in additional money for the Secret Service to fund the first set of new task forces.
The quarterly meetings held by the New York task force have brought together as many as 500 participants, and the Washington meetings have seen as many as 250, said Secret Service special agent Bryan Palma. Companies are encouraged to send no more than two representatives and to prepare for a general session that is open to reporters, Palma said.
"But when something has to be kept secret, we know how to do it," Palma said. "Our name proves we know how."
The task forces are the "only vehicle of their kind" in law enforcement, said special agent John Frazzini. He acknowledged that the business community might consider the Secret Service an unlikely partner in the struggle against cyberterrorism. But the task forces show that law enforcement is trying to do business differently by actively working with companies to prevent and prepare for cyberterrorism, he said. Frazzini views this as a change within the service that places more emphasis on education and prevention.
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