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The federal government is developing plans for a secure network operations center for all security information flowing to and from the government.

The security operations center would be separate from other such facilities at federal agencies and would not necessarily be concerned with monitoring the operations of production government networks. Instead, the SOC would be a clearinghouse that gathers and analyzes data from the private sector, mainly the Information Sharing and Analysis Centers in several major vertical industries.

The new facility will likely be located in northern Virginia, according to sources familiar with the plans. The plans are part of the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to engage the private sector more fully in the process of defending the nation’s critical infrastructure. This is a key concern for the department because the lion’s share of the infrastructure is owned privately; the government must rely on ISPs, carriers and large enterprises for help in securing it.

The SOC would be run jointly by personnel from the DHS and a civilian contractor that would help build the facility. The physical location of the SOC will probably be in a government-owned building, said sources close to the plan. DHS officials said that even though there are less formal information-sharing efforts between government and private industry, there still is a need for a more structured program.

“We’re trying to operationalize the public/private partnership. It’s been largely intangible up till now,” said Amit Yoran, director of the National Cyber Security Division at DHS, in an interview here last week. “We want the rules of the road to be clear on this stuff. The private sector genuinely wants to make progress on this. I think, as we get more considerate of the private sector in terms of the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] exemption, things will come along.”

One of the carrots the government has used to entice enterprises into sharing more data on attacks, vulnerabilities and other security concerns is an exemption to the FOIA for information pertaining to critical infrastructure protection. This exemption guarantees that data the companies turn over won’t be subject to FOIA requests by news organizations.

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