Defense Department drafts stronger software security rules

More stringent requirements could be in place by the end of next year.

Stiffer requirements for the security of software purchased by the Defense Department should be in place by the end of next year, according to a department official.

Defense, the Homeland Security Department and other federal entities are working actively this summer to develop a way to extend current software certification procedures to be able to exclude products and services or companies deemed too risky.

Joe Jarzombek, a deputy director for software assurance at Defense's networks and information integration office, said current certification focuses on ensuring that the products do what they were billed to do. Now they will look for bad actors associated with the product or company, secure business practices and an evaluation of the product.

The regulations apply only to products that require high levels of security, he said during a conference held this week. The department will hold a series of workshops with various constituents this summer -- some open, some closed -- as it moves to complete the regulations. That effort will be capped by recommendations announced at a software assurance conference Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in Washington, he said.

The department also is preparing to release a new information assurance architecture this month, he said.

Jarzombek said the department recognizes it cannot currently address all existing cybersecurity threats, even as it moves all operations and functions into an Internet-based environment, a process referred to as "network centricity."

"We see that the best encryption we have today will not keep us safe," he said. The information assurance strategy "is very key to the overall defense strategy," he said, and is funded at $2 billion per year, a portion of Defense's overall information technology budget. Jarzombek said there is congressional support for additional funding for other areas in fiscal 2005.

The department calculates that the cost of reacting to cyber attacks is far greater than the cost of preventing them, he said. Ninety percent of attacks are against known vulnerabilities, and the cost is between $1 million and $4 million per patch. In addition, network centricity allows faster and better decisions by the military, he said.

The military is trying to adapt to "asymmetric," or decentralized, warfare, where attackers can be in remote locations and may be one individual with ties to an adversary organization. "Asymmetric warfare is killing us in a number of new ways," Jarzombek said.

He said Defense is working with Homeland Security and others to look at ways to help industry to provide better products, especially as government increasingly emphasizes commercial, off-the-shelf products.

Defense is asking whether a supplier can be disqualified from providing goods and services to the department if a threat assessment finds information against the company, a conference participant said. Excluding a firm can lead to lawsuits.

But Jarzombek said the department must ensure the security of the products it uses, and if companies do not choose to comply, they do not have to sell to the department.