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Make Telecom Networks More Secure: Nacchio

Telecommunications networks in the U.S. are strong, but the Bush administration and Congress should take additional steps to protect the security of all our country's critical public and private network facilities, a top telecom executive said Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Qwest Communications International Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Joseph P. Nacchio testified before a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on critical infrastructure protection of telecom networks from both cyber and physical attacks.

"In New York, telecommunications companies put aside their everyday marketplace rivalry and came together as one to help restore communications," Nacchio said. "Companies and the public sector can jump start their efforts. NSTAC (National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee) and the National Security Council should immediately initiate a project to develop benchmarks and requirements for Information Security Best Practices for the telecommunications industry."

Nacchio also endorsed two other measures to help improve infrastructure security. He said Congress should remove barriers to the sharing of information about network architecture and infrastructure threats, and "should complement these efforts by enacting legislation increasing the penalties for cyber attacks and acts of vandalism that impair the telecommunications infrastructure, and by giving law enforcement greater latitude to investigate and prosecute these attacks."

Besides heading Qwest, Nacchio is vice chairman of NSTAC, a group of executives from the telecommunications and information technology fields appointed by the president to provide advice on security and emergency preparedness issues.

Frank J. Cilluffo, co-chairman of Cyber Threats Task Force for the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said government and industry needs to prioritize policies and resources in the fight against terrorism. "Unless we examine the problem in its totality, we may simply be displacing risk from one infrastructure to another," he said in testimony before the committee. "We need to approach the problem holistically, examining the dangers posed to our critical infrastructure in both the physical and virtual worlds and where they converge."

Cilluffo called for a new national debate on infrastructure assurance, as well as a re-thinking of national security strategy. "It can no longer be a case of the government leading and the private sector following," he said. "In other words, Silicon Valley and the Beltway, where the sandal meets the wingtip, must stand side by side and on equal footing in addressing these issues and formulating responses."

Kenneth C. Watson, president of Partnership for Critical Infrastructure Security, said his group has several recommendations to protect the nation's critical infrastructure:

  • Support Bush administration initiatives to streamline coordination within the federal government. Any overall federal coordinator must have budget authority and accountability to be effective.
  • Support initiatives that will secure the next-generation network of networks as well as the patches and fixes we are applying today.
  • Encourage government organizations, businesses, and individuals to practice sound information security. Several organizations publish lists of effective means to secure computers and networks against malicious activity, like updating passwords, disallowing unauthorized accounts and unneeded services, and installing firewalls and intrusion detection.
  • Carefully consider the impact of any new legislation on individual privacy, freedom of expression, and entrepreneurship.

On the last point, Watson said, "We all understand that without security there is no privacy, but we must always strive for balance."