Lebanon News

National news website down, government approves security improvements

A screen shot grabbed showing the website is down.

BEIRUT: Technical difficulties brought down the government’s news website Wednesday, at the same time that the Cabinet passed a proposal to upgrade the country’s primitive Internet security.

National News Agency Director General Laura Suleiman told The Daily Star that the news organization servers could no longer handle the increased load on their website due to upgrades being made in their services to add new content.

The servers were down late Tuesday night and most of the day Wednesday, but Sleiman said she expects the servers to be replaced and the website restored soon. Sleiman did not state a specific day when the website would be back online.

Most of the country’s newspapers and television stations use the NNA to stay up to date on the latest news throughout the country.

Upgrades to the NNA’s infrastructure will be included in a package of improvements that the Cabinet approved Wednesday afternoon to boost the government’s servers and contract out its Internet security.

A spending proposal, submitted by Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish, will make nearly $500,000 worth of improvements to the government’s information security and Internet infrastructure.

The package notably circumvents the country’s cyber security office and contracts out the country’s Internet security work.

The spending package includes $75,000 for Microsoft security work, up to $250,000 for hiring an external information security consultant and includes a provision for bringing on a United Nations information specialist. Other spending items include $25,000 for a new server, and up to $80,000 for information security hardware.

The government’s websites have been the target of a number of cyber-attacks over the past several months. Cyber activists defaced government sites such as the Energy Ministry’s homepage with political statements about the lack of services in the country.

Some ministries lost control of their websites for several days in a row because of basic security vulnerabilities in their webpages. The NNA was also hacked during those attacks.

Web security expert Mireille Raad said the security upgrades included in the proposal meet a bare minimum of what needs to be included in a government security overhaul.

It will still be a long time before the country has an effective counter to the increasingly sophisticated hackers.

“It does not guarantee that other websites won’t be hacked,” Raad said.

“It’s something very basic that should have been in consideration before,” she added.

Raad said it was probably a wise move to bring in external security specialists to protect information until government employees have the necessary expertise.

“This is a good step – having someone take care of security ensures the process,” she said.

Raad said that in order to boost the country’s Internet security more effectively, officials should make wide-ranging revisions to the coding of government websites, to plug security holes.

She said lawmakers might also consider revising laws to facilitate the prosecution of hackers.

“Some of those websites have important data,” Raad said. “There should be some kind of legal protections.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 26, 2012, on page 4.

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