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US to offer cyber warnings on e-mail

Americans can now sign up to receive free cyber alerts from Homeland Security Dept to help protect themselves on the Net.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2004 14:30 IST

Americans can sign up beginning Wednesday to receive free cyber alerts and computer advice from the Homeland Security Department to help protect themselves on the Internet.

The new National Cyber Alert System, expected to be announced on Wednesday, is an ambitious programme to develop a trusted warning system by the government to help home users and technology experts. It will send e-mails about major virus outbreaks and other Internet attacks as they occur, along with detailed instructions to help computer users protect themselves.

The effort is aimed at improving the overall security of the Internet, a goal frustrated by increasingly complex software that can be difficult to secure and by hackers learning to launch sophisticated new attacks.

The new alert system puts the US government in direct competition with dozens of companies and organizations that already transmit similar cyber warnings. It also could renew criticisms about earlier, disjointed government efforts that frequently sounded Internet warnings hours or even days after major computer attacks and occasionally included wrong information.

Earlier Internet warnings were distributed by the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, which was moved to Homeland Security when President Bush created the new department. Congressional investigators complained in July 2002 that those earlier warnings mostly were issued after Internet attacks were long underway.

The new alert system also sets up potentially serious conflicts with leading software companies, including Microsoft Corp, which aggressively discourage any public disclosures about new security flaws in their products until engineers can study the problems and offer repairing software patches for their customers. Researchers who discover new vulnerabilities commonly work closely with companies by agreeing to keep secret details about their work until a software patch is made available. But some researchers have increasingly complained that companies take too long to verify their discoveries or deliberately seek to minimize their efforts for marketing purposes.

First Published: Jan 28, 2004 11:24 IST