CIA to soar into five critical cloud computing investments

Cloud analytics, security-as-a-service and infrastructure top the list

The Central Intelligence Agency is looking at five critical investment areas to shore up the agency’s cloud computing efforts, Ira “Gus” Hunt, the chief technology officer for the agency's CIO, told attendees at a conference Oct. 27.

The agency has moved to a private cloud because the computing environment offers unprecedented capabilities for the agency to meet its mission, Hunt said. The agency’s mission is to provide intelligence or information to the president, National Security Council and other government officials who make or carry out national security policies.

“Cloud is not just an infrastructure. It’s an eco-system,“ Hunt said during a luncheon keynote address at the Virtualization, Cloud Computing and Green IT conference held in Washington, D.C., by the 1105 Government Information Group.

For the CIA, the cloud is private, large-scale, dynamic, elastic and automated in a commodity-computing environment. To that end, the CIA is investing in cloud analytics, cloud widgets and services, cloud security-as-a-service, cloud enterprise data management and cloud infrastructure.

There has been a deluge of multi-lingual data, audio, Twitter tweets, video and text messages that adds layers of complexity to intelligence gathering. The CIA is turning to commercial IT technology that can help in the shifting through these layers. Also, the focus now is on looking for patterns of bad behavior through the use of analytics.

“We’re looking for petascale capacity for petascale problems,” Hunt said. “We’re looking to solve long-standing performance issues with large data sets,” Hunt said, noting that CIA analysts write huge queries. The analysts write 60,000 character requests. Putting that volume of data into standard machines can only result in long-waiting times for answers to their queries.

“More important, we have to change how we search,” he said.

Turning to the subject of security a big concern with cloud computing, Hunt noted that a private cloud can be more secure.

The agency builds gold images of systems that have been pre-certified and accredited, and constantly re-images them from a vault. Encryption and replication management also strengthen security.

There are some issues with security.

For example, auditors get nervous because it is through auditing that they know what is running on systems and what people are doing on systems. In a dynamic, elastic environment data is constantly moving around. So the CIA IT team had to write auditing services to keep track of information, Hunt said.

“Key management for the encrypted enterprise is really tough,” he said. With data distributed everywhere, you can’t keep coming back to a single key management server. “We’re looking for distributed key management solutions in the cloud,” Hunt said. Although, they don’t have answers yet, agency officials have made some investments that are moving it in that direction, he said.

Replication management can be a boon and a problem, especially if a virus gets in a file that is moving and being replicated.

Cloud computing is happening, though, because it is an inexorable trend in computing, Hunt said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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