DIA message system slashes clearance-level red tape

Two-stage DIA protocol preps documents to move at 'moment's notice' across separate security domains.

At a glance

ORGANIZATION:

Defense Intelligence Agency

PROJECT:

Multi-Domain Dissemination System

CHALLENGE:

To speed the sharing of critical information between networks with different security classifications.

SOLUTION:

Build a hardware/software bridge that provides the necessary security filters and permissions so that users can view all the information from a single browser.

When it comes to fighting wars, having access to good information often means the difference between life and death. For a long time, however, the security regimen that the Defense Department has built around its data got in the way of timely information sharing.

Soldiers might be able to freely text messages to each other about the movement of the enemy, for example. But to satisfy data security protocols, higher-level officers watching the encounter remotely might have to send critical information to the soldiers through an intermediary, resulting in potentially fatal delays.

The Defense Intelligence Agency’s Multi-Domain Dissemination System (MDDS) eliminates that delay by acting as a bridge between networks that have various security clearance levels. Those with higher clearances can now send relevant documents immediately to those with lower clearances because MDDS can “pre-stage” the release of allowable information.

“It provides for a reliable, human review of documents,” said Danielle McGahee, MDDS program manager. “A two-stage process allows for documents to be pre-checked so they’re ready at a moment’s notice to be sent to a lower security domain.” One person creates the package of information and sends it through MDDS, requiring a review by another person before it can be released. And MDDS automatically will check the document for viruses and malware.

DIA Multi Domain Dissemination System team

(From left: Anthony Schwartz, Ken Orton, Danielle McGahee, Tonya Picou, Scott Willie, Norm Richmond)

MDDS also prevents anyone from using a thumb drive to transfer data from one computer to another because it forces users to walk through all the steps needed to pre-stage documents. It also breaks any secure transmission to examine all of the content, ensuring that forbidden information won’t slip through.

MDDS acts as the equivalent of the HTTP that runs the Internet. As long as any document, application, discussion forum or other information source was created on a network connected through MDDS at or below someone’s clearance level, that person can pull it up in his browser on his own network.

About 200,000 users, mostly in the intelligence community, are connected through MDDS and its adoption is growing at a steady 30 percent a year. Just about all of that growth has come about through word-of-mouth, but McGahee and her team are looking to more actively promote MDDS throughout the federal government. “So many people are using MDDS now but have no idea that’s what they are using,” she said.

Because the information would now be available to users through MDDS, it could potentially save government a lot of money. Organizations would not have to build apps on their own networks, along with the servers and storage needed to host content.

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