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White House Unveils Initiative to Fight Computer Viruses

Senator Joseph Lieberman
The White House supports a bill sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman,seen here, that would put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of regulating cybersecurity of the nation’s vital systems such as power grids and transportation networks. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Internet-service providers and financial-services companies would share data about networks of infected computers known as botnets under a pilot program announced today by the Obama administration.

The White House also unveiled a voluntary set of principles developed by an industry group to prevent and detect botnets and a consumer-education campaign about the computer viruses.

Botnets are networks of infected computers that can be used for malicious purposes, such as stealing information, generating spam or flooding corporate or government systems with unwanted traffic that can cripple websites. To build a botnet, hackers send out programs, often disguised as links or hidden in e-mail attachments, that infect a computer when opened.

“The issue of botnets is larger than any one industry or country,” Howard Schmidt, the White House cybersecurity coordinator, said in an e-mailed statement. “This is why partnership is so important.”

More than 5 million systems worldwide were infected with botnets between January and March of 2012, Michael DeCesare, co-president of McAfee Inc., a security software unit of Intel Corp., said at a White House event on botnets today led by Schmidt.

Voluntary Principles

Schmidt, who is preparing to step down from his post, was joined at the event by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The Homeland Security and Commerce departments in September sought comments on a voluntary industry program, saying that botnets have emerged as an increasing threat during the past several years.

The voluntary principles announced today include coordinating across sectors and confronting the problem globally. They were developed by the Industry Botnet Group, comprising trade groups including the Business Software Alliance and TechAmerica.

A financial-services Information Sharing and Analysis Center established in 1999 is developing the botnet pilot and will announce details in the next month, Bill Nelson, the center’s president, said in an interview. He declined to name pilot participants. The center, which works with the U.S. Treasury and Homeland Security, has more than 4,000 members, including top banks and credit-card companies, he said.

Cybersecurity Legislation

President Barack Obama’s administration opposed a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last month that encourages the government and companies to voluntarily share information on cyber threats, saying the measure doesn’t do enough to protect the nation’s critical systems and would erode privacy safeguards for consumer information.

The push for cybersecurity legislation has intensified following attacks last year on companies including New York-based Citigroup Inc., the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, and Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense company.

The White House supports a bill sponsored by Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, that would put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of regulating cybersecurity of the nation’s vital systems such as power grids and transportation networks.

Napolitano at the White House event today said she’s hopeful the Lieberman bill will move to the Senate floor in the next month or so.

The House bill is H.R. 3523. The Lieberman bill is S. 2105.

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