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Civilian agencies can tap cross-domain info sharing tools

In Silver Spring, Md., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration compiles regular weather updates reported by its 120 U.S. weather forecast offices. At the same time, U.S. Air Force officers depend upon these reports to plan for upcoming squadron drills and real-world mission planning. A major storm or heavy fog could cause a delay in the schedule.

But there’s another complication: The Air Force officers who need this information conduct mission planning (and the rest of their work) on higher level networks.  The unclassified weather information must be passed to these higher networks so planners can use this information and distribute it to others on the network. But NOAA weather personnel cannot readily share information with those officers on the same network because they’re not authorized for these levels of clearance.

Fortunately, innovations in network isolation and secure information sharing are changing all that for civilian agencies. These technologies now allow users with special network access (e.g., compartmented due to information sensitivity) to share information securely in real time. NOAA is just one of a number of agencies deploying these technologies. However, awareness is only starting to take hold.

For years, network isolation and secure information sharing technology has thrived within the military and intelligence communities, with what are commonly called cross-domain solutions. These are integrated systems of hardware and software that enable information transfer across incompatible security domains or levels of classification. 

The events of 9/11 created a sense of urgency for secure information sharing solutions. Thus, the Unified Cross Domain Management Office (UCDMO) was established to oversee all cross domain initiatives within the Defense Department and the intelligence community. 

For agency procurement supervisors, this office provides a great service. The UCDMO has 35 products from 15 companies on its Cross Domain Baseline List, which means the products have been reviewed and approved by UCDMO.  Included on the list are “access” and "transfer" solutions. Access solutions allow users to access information at different classification levels on multiple secure domains from a single desktop device.  

That means IT managers don’t have to conduct extensive research to figure out which of these solutions is the best fit. There is no need to “do-it-yourself” and build the entire solution from the ground up. The field is narrowed down to those 35 products – a reasonable number to consider while still leaving a good range of options. And because the solutions on the list have undergone community testing, the next agency to deploy the solution in a similar manner will benefit from that test evidence and speed the time to production.

There are literally dozens of these technologies approved for use at the most sensitive ranks of government. These solutions were designed to help teams that collaborate and exchange emails, files and documents  to make mission-critical decisions that affect U.S. warfighters and intelligence officers. These technologies are also available to civilian agencies.

Given the stakes, such technologies represent the most advanced and effective systems available. They’d also make a highly capable, smooth transition to civilian deployments. After all, why develop new solutions when they already exist and are succeeding  within the military and intelligence communities, often under lethal circumstances?

In professional sports, teams often come to their draft-day “war rooms” with a singular strategy: To land the best athlete available, based on that player’s proven performance. The same thinking could apply to civilian agencies moving toward network isolation and secure information sharing. Why consider unproven alternatives when the very best technologies have excelled time and time again, under the most pressured environments?

About the Author

Mitch Jukanovich is Director of Intelligence and Civilian Agencies for Raytheon Cyber Products Company.

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