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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 17:09 GMT
Global alliance to tackle computer criminals
Love bug AP
What unlucky victims of the Love Bug may have seen
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Some of the biggest names in the computer industry are joining forces to combat the rising tide of cybercrime.

IBM, Intel, AT&T, Microsoft and many others are setting up a worldwide early warning system to share information about vulnerabilities in software and data, the activities of malicious hackers and people planning computer crimes.

The grand alliance, which also includes the FBI and US Government, will set up a series of centres around the world to collate information and distribute it to members.

To minimise the damage that knowledge about weaknesses could do, the group will not be sharing information with anyone outside the organisation.

Tackling the attackers

This week, 19 technology companies announced they were setting up a worldwide organisation that would help warn them and their customers about cybercrime attacks.

The need for such a group emerged in 1999 when fears about the damage the Millennium Bug would do were at their height.

Although 1 January, 2000, passed with relatively little damage done, organisations around the world have since been hit by a series of debilitating technological attacks by viruses or malicious hackers that have flooded websites with bogus data. This week, the e-mail network of UUNet has been crippled by just such an attack.

In February last year, EBay, Yahoo, Amazon and others were hit by such attacks, and in May many organisations suffered the effects of the Love Bug virus.

Shared warnings

The incidents prompted representatives from 100 technology companies to meet to discuss ways of combatting these attacks. During the talks, it emerged that some companies had prior warning of some strikes but had no way to let others know of the danger.

There is a realisation that security is not something to be scoffed at

Craig Whitney, ISS
Now, the group of 19 companies have contributed a total of $750,000 to set up the Information Sharing and Analysis Centres in an alliance co-ordinated by the Information Technology Association of America.

The alliance brings together bitter business rivals such as Microsoft and Oracle, together with the FBI, the US Department of Commerce and the National Security Council. Companies can join the organisation by paying $5,000.

The centres will be run under contract by Internet Security Systems (ISS) which already runs similar information-gathering networks on behalf of many of its customers.

Information ripple

"We can correlate all the information we are gathering across our regional centres, so we can do long-term trend analysis on the data," said Craig Whitney, a spokesman for ISS.

Rather than set up physical links between the companies, the centres will act as data-gathering points.

They will take information from technology companies about weaknesses in their own products, and the loopholes popular among malicious hacking groups, and let everyone in the alliance know about them. The warnings will be spread by e-mail, telephone, fax and pagers.

Mr Whitney said the recent rash of attacks had made everyone want to do more to protect themselves. "We are seeing security being introduced at the design phase of more and more projects," he said. "There is a realisation that security is not something to be scoffed at."

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