17 May 2004

Group spurred by 9/11 on patrol

Group spurred by 9/11 on patrol:

"About four months after Sept. 11, 2001, Buck Fleming was in New York with Chris Fearnley, calling on customers of their Upper Darby-based computer consulting firm, LinuxForce Inc.

After they were done, the two went to look at Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center towers had stood before terrorists struck.

'I talked my way on to the relatives' platform, and I stood there for an hour among the relatives, and I decided I had something else to do [besides run a company],' Fleming said. 'I told Chris, 'You're promoted; you're going to be president of LinuxForce because I'm going to go contribute to how I can prevent terrorism in the United States.''

Today, Fleming is acting executive director of the Cyber Incident Detection and Data Analysis Center, a nonprofit that has developed technology for spotting and preventing attacks on computer systems, as well as catching those who launch them.

The center grew out of the Philadelphia chapter of InfraGard, a partnership between businesses, other organizations and the FBI aimed at preventing attacks to the nation's infrastructure.

It has 28 members, including such large local companies as Independence Blue Cross and Air Products and Chemicals Inc., and the University of Pennsylvania's Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis & Response. But it doesn't have the means for deploying its technology, which consist of sensors that monitor attacks on computer networks they're attached to and transmit information about the attacks to a central location.

'Technically, this is easy,' said Jeff Weisberg, an area computer consultant who serves as the center's chief technology officer. 'Experience over the past two years has suggested that we're not doing well raising money, so apparently that's not so easy.'

The center hopes to help remedy that with a fund-raiser Wednesday at the American Philosophical Society that will feature a presentation by Keith Morales, director of information security at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and the president of InfraGard's Philadelphia chapter.

It also wants to get organizations to sign up as paying members. Those that do will get sensors deployed on their networks and receive information on cyber-threats that the center collects.

They also will be able to pay less for insurance; the giant New York-based insurer American International Group Inc. has agreed to offer discounted rates to organizations that deploy the center's sensors on their networks.

Fleming wants the center to have its office up and running by December. He wants to locate the office in the Science Center technology park in the city's University City section because that's close to Penn and Drexel University, which have been working with the center.

The office will employ 25, Fleming said, and will benefit the region's hotels and restaurants by offering training classes that attract people from all over the country.

Other organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit, offer services similar to what the center is proposing to offer. But John Chesson, the FBI special agent who is the Philadelphia coordinator for InfraGard, said the center's system of attack detection and analysis seems to be unique.

The sensors that the center wants to deploy would do nothing other than be the target for attacks. That, Chesson said, means data from attacks wouldn't get buried in the reams of other data carried by the systems the sensors are attached to now. It also means organizations could share data from the sensors without divulging confidential information.

Also, the fact that data from the sensors would be relayed to the center in real time would enable the FBI to learn of attacks while they're occurring.

'If there were an organized [cyber]-attack against our electric-power infrastructure, we may not know in today's world until things start failing,' Chesson said."

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