The Banking Industry Technology Secretariat opened its security-testing laboratory Wednesday to a chorus of approval from government officials.

The officials-including past and present members of the Senate and officials of the Treasury and Navy departments-praised the secretariat and banking as a whole for getting ahead of other industries in protecting computer and communications networks from external and hostile threats.

Banking can thus serve as an example to other "critical infrastructure" components such as transportation and electric power, said Richard Clarke of the National Security Council. "Let those other industries know that the threat is real and that there can be a successful coming together of competitors" to address it, said Mr. Clarke, whose title is special assistant to the president.

"The private sector is doing what it ought to be doing in this area," said Gregory Baer, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for financial institution policy.

They spoke at the formal opening of the Financial Services Security Laboratory at the headquarters of Global Integrity Corp., the contractor chosen by the Banking Industry Technology Secretariat.

The group, known as BITS, won support from its parent, the big-bank- dominated Financial Services Roundtable, to offer stamps of approval on technologies and systems that meet predefined security standards. Several bankers have signaled that the BITS mark will be a prerequisite for their future technology purchases, and this has, in turn, piqued the interest of vendor companies in submitting to the certification process.

Global Integrity, a subsidiary of Science Applications International Corp., has co-funded the establishment of the lab with BITS to the tune of multiple millions of dollars. Further income is now expected to come from vendor fees, and evaluations are to begin later this summer.

BITS chief executive officer Catherine Allen said Hewlett-Packard Co., International Business Machines Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc. have supported the lab effort. In a further indication of supplier interest, Gus Blanchard, chairman of Deluxe Corp., attended the opening, as did people from such companies as Computer Associates International, Computer Sciences Corp., and Total System Services Inc.

Total System is the credit card processing subsidiary of Synovus Financial Corp. of Columbus, Ga., whose chairman, James Blanchard, is a BITS board member. He called the security lab and the backing it enjoys from bankers "a miracle for our industry."

Also at the event, Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, a Senate Banking Committee member and head of a special committee on year-2000 problems, said banking is poised to take leadership on security matters, just as it has been "ahead of most industries in (year-2000) remediation and testing."

"There is a dark side to all of this," said Sam Nunn, the retired Democratic senator from Georgia, of the information revolution.

Mr. Nunn, a senior partner in the Atlanta law firm King & Spalding who has remained heavily involved in information-security policy and strategy, added that "the private sector will have to assume much of the responsibility itself" for protecting its infrastructure and preventing unwelcome or unintended regulatory responses.

"The private sector must lead, and BITS is doing that today," Mr. Nunn said. "The private financial sector is moving out smartly in areas of self- protection and self-governance."

The feedback lent an air of celebration to the opening ceremony and amounted to positive reinforcement for BITS, which in its two and a half years generated some controversy as a budgetary drain on the Bankers Roundtable, the group that recently changed its name to the Financial Services Roundtable and aims to broaden its membership.

"We in the financial services industry feel a sense of pride," said Roundtable chairman Robert W. Gillespie, who is chairman and CEO of KeyCorp in Cleveland. "We are proud to be a beacon for other industries."

Under Secretary of the Navy Jerry Hultin said the government itself wants to buy "private sector solutions" to Internet security, including smart cards. "You'll design that, and it's essential," he told the bankers.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.