Cylink chief backs GovNet proposal

When Richard Clarke, the newly appointed chairman of President Bush’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, first proposed creating a separate intranet for critical government services and e-commerce, many in the IT industry called the plan impractical. Critics said there was no possibility that private companies would walk away from the Internet.

That was last May, four months before Sept. 11 demonstrated how vulnerable to disruption corporate data could be. Now, the Bush administration’s plan to disconnect critical government services from the public Internet, known as GovNet, has a new ally in Silicon Valley: Bill Crowell, CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Cylink Corp. and a former deputy director of the National Security Agency.

Crowell is the first high-profile CEO from the IT industry to pledge full support for GovNet. He has even gone so far as to call for the private sector to create similar private networks.

“The GovNet idea has triggered an interesting rethinking of networks,” Crowell said last week. “Core operations, such as human resources and finance, should be on private networks and fully protected. That gives you defense in-depth on mission-critical operations. The mad rush to put all of these critical things onto the Internet has been arrested as a bad idea.”

Multinational corporations and large financial institutions are already moving in this direction, said Crowell. It’s a matter of building high-speed connectivity that can survive in the event of a catastrophe and is more difficult for attackers to break into, he said.

High-speed Asynchronous Transfer Mode networks that use link encryption are one example of such technology. Link encryption, sometimes called link layer encryption, is the process of encrypting information at the data link level as it is transmitted between two points within a network. “There’s no place to get into the network,” said Crowell. “It’s much harder for an attacker to get through all of that switching fabric, as opposed to the router fabric.”

There are also economic advantages to GovNet-like networks, he said. “Most companies have been living in the T1 world and are hoping to move to the T3 world,” said Crowell. “We can aggregate [network capacity]. T3 has been getting a lot cheaper than an equal number of T1s. If you move to the large pipes, you can get to prices below ISP costs.”