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U.S. to Release PC Safeguards

Computers: Software, security guidelines will be free to all, mandated for some agencies.


Creating a Good Housekeeping approval seal of sorts, the government is releasing standards and a software program that will help computer users configure their systems for maximum security against hackers and thieves.

The program will be available free to anyone and will be mandated for some federal agencies.

The Pentagon, National Security Agency and other agencies will join private partners today to announce the security standards for computers that run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000. The operating system commonly is used by businesses and government.

The seal of approval comes in the form of a small program that probes computers for known security flaws and makes suggestions on how to eliminate holes used by hackers.

The unprecedented effort will have an immediate effect.

All Defense Department computers will be required to meet the standards immediately, and the White House is considering making the rest of the government follow suit.

Experts said the keys to success will be extending the standards to home and business users, making them simple enough for the public to understand and ensuring they stay ahead of increasingly sophisticated computer attackers.

"If it's just government, it won't have as much value as if it's government and the private sector," said Richard Clarke, President Bush's computer security advisor.

The private partners in the project have their eyes set on broadening the standards to other operating systems, including the Windows products most commonly used in home computers.

"It's a massive problem," said Clint Kreitner, head of the Center for Internet Security, a nonprofit partnership of companies and U.S. and Canadian government agencies. "They slap their systems on the Net and get ready to go, then wonder why they get breached in the next 10 minutes."

The effort has brought together some of the biggest names in business, including computer chipmaker Intel Corp., Chevron and Visa--part of the group that helped create the standards and is encouraging their use.

Microsoft, which is embarking on its own efforts to make its software more secure, has reviewed the standards and made suggestions.

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