DHS unveils cybersecurity warning system

The US government is joining forces with antivirus companies and public-private groups in warning citizens about virus outbreaks...

The US government is joining forces with antivirus companies and public-private groups in warning citizens about virus outbreaks such as the recent Mydoom e-mail worm and other online threats.

The Department of Homeland Security unveiled a National Cyber Alert System, which will use e-mail warnings and bulletins to provide US citizens and others with timely information on warnings about virus outbreaks, online scams, computer software vulnerabilities and advice on computer security best practices.

The alerts will come in two forms - one for computer security experts and the technical community, and one for non-technical computer and internet users.

Individuals can sign up to receive the alert by visiting the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team website, or US-Cert (http://www.us-cert.gov), said Amit Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division within DHS.

The agency will also e-mail bulletins to subscribers summarising software patches and workarounds for technical audiences and provide cybersecurity tips for non-technical computer users.

"The strategy is to provide people with periodic pieces of information that they can use to better secure their systems ... before they fall victims to viruses and worms," Yoran said.

"We want to move beyond simple response and alert and take a more proactive stance as we implement a national strategy."

Computer owners who secure their machines help ensure that those PCs could not be used in large-scale cyberattacks as "weapons against their country", Yoran said.

Yoran, a former Symantec executive, said the National Cyber Alert System would complement private sector alert systems, such as those offered by Symantec and Network Associates' McAfee antivirus division.

DHS already identifies and tracks more than 30 computer threats each day. The latest alert system is just a way to release some of that information to the public and to tie it to an overall national cybersecurity picture, he said.

One of the biggest jobs facing the alert system is co-ordinating the public organisations and government bodies that already track cybersecurity.

Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service

Read more on IT risk management