DOD moves on mobile code
- By George I. Seffers
- Nov 08, 2000
The Pentagon chief information officer approved a highly anticipated policy
Nov. 7 governing the military's use of mobile code, which can be used for
Mobile code is widespread throughout the Defense Department and other
government agencies, according to the policy letter signed by Art Money,
the Pentagon's CIO.
"Mobile code is a powerful software tool that enhances cross-platform
capabilities, sharing of resources and Web-based solutions," Money stated.
"Its use is widespread and increasing in both commercial and government
applications. In DOD, mobile code is employed in systems supporting functional
areas ranging from acquisition to intelligence to transportation.
"Mobile code, unfortunately, has the potential to severely degrade DOD
operations if improperly used or controlled," Money continued. "To protect
DOD systems from the threat of malicious or improper use of mobile code,
we must assess and control the risks imposed on the technology."
The new policy defines mobile code as "software obtained from remote
systems outside the enclave boundary, transferred across a network, and
then downloaded and executed on a local system without explicit installation
or execution by a recipient."
Microsoft Corp.'s ActiveX is one of many items listed in the new policy
as potentially dangerous. Others include Java applets and other Java code,
LotusScript and Shockwave/Flash.
ActiveX allows programs — hostile or not — to be e-mailed to a computer
and automatically interfaced with other programs, according to Navy Capt.
David Meadows, information assurance division chief with the Joint Chiefs
"One of the biggest challenges in mobile code as identified by a lot
of the commercial information assurance people is ActiveX," Meadows said.
"When it downloads into your system, it allows that product that it brought
with it to interact with every program you have in your system, regardless
of what the program is or how it was designed. You can see for yourself
that ActiveX can also be malicious."
The policy places mobile code technologies into one of three categories
based on the threat they pose to DOD systems, with Category One mobile code
being the most dangerous, in part because those technologies are easy to
activate and have no known countermeasures.
The document also lists a number of emerging mobile code technologies,
which have not been review for categorization and will be "blocked by all
The policy has been in the making for more than a year and has proved
controversial within the military, according to Meadows.
"There are a lot of smart people out there who were members of this
mobile code [policy] group, and every one of them had a different opinion
on what it meant and how it operated. It was just as dynamic as being in
a room full of Air Force and Navy pilots discussing air power vs. carrier
power. You'd have to bring in the [military police] to separate the two,"