Computer firm helps military share its 'trusted' data

The security of information that the Defense Department uses internally and in battle is a growing issue that technology firms are trying to address.

The nation's military strength could depend on how much information can be shared among the armed services and with fighters in the field, and how secure that information is. In the past, the tendency has been to avoid sharing information among services due to security concerns. In addition, war-fighters in the field have not been able to search electronically for the latest and best information they want, even if that information exists.

Computer Systems Center Incorporated (CSCI), a small defense-contracting firm headquartered in northern Virginia, is tackling that information security issue. Over the course of eight years, CSCI developed a secure method for sharing information internally so successful that it is making it available to others.

The technology, called Trusted Information Infrastructure, is an accredited system that can communicate with any other system and that also integrates commercially available products. It focuses on the need for trust in networks, company officials said in an interview.

"The big problem with sharing data today is trust," said Malik Bilal, CSCI's director of secure information systems. Trusted Information Infrastructure permits centralized administration, the compartmenting of information so everyone does not have access to all data, information assurance to ensure both the identity of those accessing the data and the authenticity of the data, the ability to move among different levels of classification, and the ability to work together with people in different physical locations, Bilal said.

CSCI Chief Technology Officer Peter Anderson said the organization is doing research that can help change defense policy that for security reasons prohibits the sharing of information among the different "stovepipes" for data in the military branches. But since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the "need to know" approach to information has become a "need to share" philosophy, and CSCI is working on ways to aid that change, he said.

"Communication needs to take place across the intelligence networks, tactical networks and other systems in order to create [network]-centric communication," Anderson said. In particular, the field soldiers have been shortchanged, as limited bandwidth leaves them stuck without the communication links necessary to receive the most current battle-related information.

"We're trying to show them in a research and development sense that it's possible to do it," he said. On a daily basis, the company is using the system, as well as developing prototypes to be produced by larger defense contractors. In the next year, its prototypes will go up in four to six Defense Department locations.

The next phases in the development of network-centric warfare will be culture shock and accreditation, Anderson said.

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