Feds look to detect cyberattacks through new early warning system

The National Security Agency is launching a new effort to detect cyberattacks on infrastructure and private companies, sources told the Wall Street Journal Thursday. Raytheon has been awarded the contract for the first phase valued at some $100 million.

"Perfect Citizen" is an application that would be installed on a computer network and look for suspicious activity, although it apparently would not monitor the network continuously. When it detects a possible cyberattack, it would alert the proper authorities.

Cyberspying by countries such as China and Russia is on the increase and has some worried. While the government knows it is happening from publicized incidents where foreign hackers have been caught snooping around, it is not known how widespread the problem may be.

Perfect Citizen is meant to protect those systems whose initial use may have not been intended to be connected to the Internet, but now are -- power grids and air traffic control systems are two examples. These could be more prone to attack as safety measures to prevent intrusions are added as an afterthought.

Adding this layer of security on top of these systems will ensure that if and when something does occur, officials are more prepared to deal with it. The information gathered could also help with investigations and more easily prosecute those involved.

The classified program remains in its early stages, and the NSA and Administration officials have refused to comment or confirm its existence. However some talking to the WSJ had their concerns.

Privacy may be one of the biggest issues with Private Citizen, some say. It is not known what data the effort will gather, and how it will do so. Will it be personally identifiable, or is it general traffic data? How is the NSA deciding what to scan? Those questions could be enough to unsettle privacy advocates.

Others see it as an intrusion by government into the private sector, and those with infrastructure may feel compelled to participate. That said, officials told the WSJ that the government could not force anybody to install Private Citizen, but may offer incentives to do so.

No time frame for the completion and deployment of the project was given.

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