NSA grapples with Linux security

The National Security Agency, the super-secret arm of the Defense Department responsible for signals intelligence and information systems security, last week tapped Secure Computing Corp. to develop a secure version of the Linux operating system.

Linux, an open-source operating system that enables developers who use it to access and customize the source code, has for the past few years been quietly gaining ground throughout the commercial world, primarily because of the success of Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. However, it also has been quietly gaining ground in the government, taking over high-end technical and network missions at various agencies, including NASA and the Pentagon's various research laboratories.

NSA's contract with Secure Computing calls for the company to apply its patented Type Enforcement technology and develop a robust, highly secure Linux platform. The award furthers efforts by Secure Computing to pursue and acquire contracts that focus on providing enabling technologies to both the federal government infrastructure as well as commercial electronic business applications.

Secure Computing's Type Enforcement technology was first developed under previous government contracts to support Unix for Secure Computing's Sidewinder firewall. Type Enforcement secures underlying operating systems and protects applications and network services by segmenting them into domains, according to a statement released by the company.

"Our Advanced Technology Division achieves almost 100 percent of their revenue from government contracts," a company spokesperson said. "We undertook this work because we recognized the need for our products to be available on a secure version Linux. This is a win for both our customer, the NSA and for ourselves, allowing us to leverage the NSA work to provide a foundation for future product directions."

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