Broad Approval Near for NSA’s NetTop Technology

NSA SealMy husband and I often chew the fat about what a pain it is to go back and forth between classified computer systems and non-classified systems—even rooms where the systems are housed. He works on government contracts in technology and intelligence, and he constantly accesses data throughout the day.

So my ears perked up recently when I heard that a technology designed to make life easier for folks like him—while keeping the data safe and sound—is nearing broad government approval. Systems based on the National Security Agency’s NetTop technology should be approved by the end of 2007 for a wide variety of applications in homeland security, the military, and law enforcement. Thousands of additional computer systems will be based on NetTop if all goes well, so government contractors working in these fields will want to keep their eyes peeled for possible system changes around the bend.

NetTop architecture isn’t new, of course. The NSA began developing it in the 1990s because they had specific needs regarding classified information. Their desire to develop the technology came partly as a response to security problems within commercial applications. They also wanted to be able to access different networks on the same workstation—networks that were at varying classification levels and that needed to stay safely separated.

NetTop technology accomplishes the goal of letting users simultaneously access domains at different security levels. Operators can also use the system to transfer data from one domain to another. A few more key advantages:

  • It allows users to get rid of the collection of CPUs and tangle of cables they otherwise need to maintain domain security.
  • Its architecture allows for the use of thin clients. These are systems that keep users from introducing security risks through a vehicle like a new software application.
  • It offers robust performance by using the features in security-enhanced Linux.

Both Hewlett Packard (HP) and Trusted Computer Solutions (TCS) licensed NetTop technology and then built systems around it, and these systems are currently going through certification and accreditation. Certain products that use HP and TCS NetTop technology are already in use. These are specifically for accessing—not transferring—data in top secret and below (TSABE) environments, and only in certain conditions. For example, to access the current system, an individual may be required to have a high-level security clearance.

It will be interesting to see how quickly—or slowly—NetTop is implemented in additional government programs. If changes eventually affect most intelligence personnel and much of the military, I see a lot of CPUs going out the window.

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