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Hackers beware: CMU's on the case

New cyber security center tackles Internet crime

Thursday, April 20, 2000

By Dan Fitzpatrick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In the wake of several recent e-commerce hacker attacks, Carnegie Mellon University yesterday unveiled a new cybersleuth center to help companies halt computer viruses and Internet raids before they happen.

    Related Associated Press coverage:

Montreal Cops Charge Web Suspect


The center, dubbed the Institute for Survivable Systems, plans to use research and development of new technology to prevent the type of threats that crippled the Yahoo!, and ETrade Web sites in February. A longer-term goal is to create a new industry in Pittsburgh, providing incubator space and technology transfer services to fledgling cybersecurity firms.

The hope is that, in time, the institute can raise $40 million to $50 million a year from government and private sources.

The university plans to staff the institute with 120 to 150 people, using workers from several parts of the university focusing on software engineering, computer science, public policy, network security and electronic commerce.

Carnegie Mellon is looking for new space to house the institute, too. It may need 125,000 to 150,000 square feet. One possible site is at Fifth Avenue and Craig Street, next to the Software Engineering Institute in Oakland.

"That would be my personal preference," said Richard Pethia, director of the new institute and also director of the Software Engineering Institute's networked systems survivability program.

For Carnegie Mellon, the new institute is a complement to its government-funded computer response team, known as the CERT Coordination Center.

Started by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1988 after the Morris Worm virus crippled 10 percent of all computers connected to the Internet, CERT is part of the Software Engineering Institute, which the U.S. Department of Defense first funded in 1984.

CERT is perhaps best known for its responses last year to the Melissa computer virus, which overwhelmed systems with a flood of e-mail messages, and for the so-called ExploreZip Trojan Horse, a computer "worm" that spread through e-mail attachments and affected at least 18 countries.

CERT, now one of 88 worldwide, "is a reactive organization," said Steve Cross, director of the Software Engineering Institute. "It finds short-term solutions. The new institute is looking to the future."

CERT's budget is $4.5 million, or about 10 percent of SEI's $45 million budget. With the new institute, Carnegie Mellon is moving CERT away from the purse strings of the government-funded SEI, Pethia said.

This fall, the new institute and CERT plan to go after new research grants from the federal government. In its new budget, the Department of Defense has set aside $2 billion for cyber security prevention.

But the new institute will go after private money, too. It plans to contract with companies hoping to prevent the spread of viruses, Internet threats or security breaches.

The institute, Cross said, needs to ask, "How can we get ahead of this problem?"

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