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Cybersecurity confab shows state's strength in protecting systems

As troops prepare for war in Iraq, the drive to bolster homeland security has enlisted soldiers of a different kind.

Many of Oregon's best and brightest are working earnestly to protect the country's critical information systems, most notably the Internet and massive electronic databases.

With the looming war as a backdrop, Oregon showed off its network security know-how at the Oregon Security Summit, held last weekend at the Oregon Zoo's conference center.

More than 400 techies attended the event, many in hopes of striking gold. There is a lot of money to be made in cybersecurity these days.

Representatives from the National Institute of Standards and Technology attended the conference with an eye toward giving out about $300 million to beef up cybersecurity. The money is part of $903 million allocated through a cyberterrorism-fighting measure introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden,

D-Ore.

With the newly created U.S. House Homeland Security Committee spinning off a subcommittee devoted solely to cybersecurity, more money could materialize.

The conference also spotlighted Oregon's leadership efforts in the cybersecurity arena. The Oregon Regional Alliance for Infrastructure and Network Security, which puts cybersecurity providers and interested public entities under the same umbrella, is rolling out a first-of-its-kind model to other states.

Among its primary contributions to the nation's security efforts, the Oregon alliance has created a protected network that authorities can use to communicate during emergencies. The alliance successfully tested the system, called RAINSNET, last week.

Network dependence noted

The conference, which drew national attention, helps prove that Portland's cybersecurity companies are getting noticed by hawks and doves alike. Vice President Dick Cheney keeps tabs on regional developments through his friendship with industry mainstay Charles Jennings, chairman and chief executive officer of Swan Island Networks.

On the other side, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., a Homeland Security Committee member who opposes a war with Iraq, stresses that cyberspace would provide a key battle front.

'Our economy is so incredibly dependent on our networks, as well as our computing capacity, that it merits special attention,' DeFazio said. 'We think there will certainly be some coordinated attacks on the Defense Department, as well as civilian-related sites.'

Such attacks could target machines containing classified Pentagon data, as well as Wall Street's vast financial databases.

'That would bring financial markets to their knees,' said Jane Ullman, the Oregon alliance's executive director.

'Cybersecurity' refers to protecting data systems against both accidents and malicious acts. It relies exclusively on technical systems to protect various information and data banks from intruders.

The efforts must ensure that data stays available, is properly stored and remains both 'authentic' (or reliable) and confidential.

Cybersecurity products developed locally run the technological gamut. Digimarc Corp.'s watermarking technology prevents unwelcome users from altering Web sites. Tripwire Inc. makes software that immediately detects and reports changes made to data systems.

'Borderless war' staged online

While the possible war with Iraq commands the nation's attention, cybersecurity enthusiasts contend that homeland security provides an equally daunting battlefield because it contains so many unknowns.

'We think of the war as being in Iraq, but cyberterrorism is a borderless war,' said Wyatt Starnes, Tripwire's president and chief executive officer. 'There's no doubt there's an increasing need and pressure for these systems.'

The challenge for Portland providers, Jennings concedes, is that many protective-service needs have yet to even be identified.

However, having groups like the Oregon alliance doesn't hurt. The alliance is providing a model for efforts in other states, including Missouri, Texas, Washington and Virginia.

'Portland has attracted some of the best people from the East and West coasts,' said Patrick Sweeney, president of Dulles, Va.-based ServerVault, a Virginia alliance leader. 'It is definitely getting a growing reputation for its good cybersecurity companies.'

The reputation in part helped Portland State University's computer science department garner certification from the National Security Administration, a coveted endorsement. The certification will only fortify the area's cybersecurity standing, said PSU computer science assistant professor Sarah Mocas.