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The NSA’s Security Challenge

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Using open source software, the National Security Agency was able to gather a community of professional and amateur security experts together to make unprecedented security protections available to public.

The National Security Agency has a mission. It is not just the nation’s code keeper and code breaker, but it must ensure the security of the nation’s digital infrastructure. Ironically, it had a security problem: the ecosystem for software that was keeping top secret information secret was deeply broken. There was little competition, no innovation and this essential software was expensive, slow to market, and antiquated.

Multi-Level Security, or MLS, is a complex problem: how to allow data with many different security classifications exist on the same machine? MLS software is difficult to get right, and easy to get wrong. It is subject to a stringent certification process. Although useful in certain areas of the private sector, there’s really only one customer for this kind of software: government. Once you’ve deployed MLS software, it’s very difficult to move to another solution as every MLS system was different. These are near-perfect conditions for very expensive, proprietary software that doesn’t innovate.

Written by gunnar

July 22nd, 2009 at 2:21 pm