President Bush signed a directive this month that expands the intelligence community's role in monitoring Internet traffic to protect against a rising number of attacks on federal agencies' computer systems.
The directive, whose content is classified, authorizes the intelligence agencies, in particular the National Security Agency, to monitor the computer networks of all federal agencies -- including ones they have not previously monitored.
The NSA has particular expertise in monitoring a vast, complex array of communications systems -- traditionally overseas. The prospect of aiming that power at domestic networks is raising concerns, just as the NSA's role in the government's warrantless domestic-surveillance program has been controversial.
This continues to be like watching a worst case scenario play out.
Supporters of cyber-security measures say the initiative falls short because it doesn't include the private sector -- power plants, refineries, banks -- where analysts say 90 percent of the threat exists.
"If you don't include industry in the mix, you're keeping one of your eyes closed because the hacking techniques are likely the same across government and commercial organizations," said Alan Paller, research director at the SANS Institute, a Bethesda-based cyber-security group that assists companies that face attacks. "If you're looking for needles in the haystack, you need as much data as you can get because these are really tiny needles, and bad guys are trying to hide the needles."
So we want the NSA to monitor private sector domestic networks too?
What kind of crack did everyone start smoking?