Export limits may shift to software

The Pentagon has recommended abandoning supercomputer export restrictionsthat are based solely on processing power, choosing instead to restrictcomputer exports based on software.

The recommendations are included in a report dated Feb. 2 and released byDelores Etter, deputy undersecretary of Defense for science and technology.The report states that "rapid advances in computer technology have limitedthe government's ability to prevent the export of high-performance computinghardware to potential adversaries," and that "controls that once restrictedthe export of high-end supercomputers now restrict the low- and midrangeservers."

Export controls on supercomputers are based on a measure of computer performanceknown as millions of theoretical operations per seconds (MTOPS). Until now,the Pentagon has supported those restrictions because supercomputers canbe used for a number of military purposes, such as developing stealth aircraftor high-energy rocket fuels or simulating nuclear explosions.

Now, the Pentagon has concluded that attempting to control high-performancehardware is futile.

"Our analysis shows that by late 1999, MTOPS controls could be easily circumventedand were no longer effective," the report states. "Thus, our recommendedstrategy is to abandon MTOPS controls for high-performance computers.. Instead,we recommend a focus on protecting our software used specifically for nationalsecurity applications."

A computer's power lies in its software, the report explains.

"High-performance computing involves more than just hardware. Highly sophisticatedand specialized applications software is also required to effectively utilizehigh performance computer systems.

"With the loss of effective hardware controls, we conclude that emphasismust shift to software protection and controls as the principal means ofrestricting foreign exploitation of high performance computing," the reportstates.

RELATED STORIES

"Navy inks supercomputer deals" [FCW.com, Feb. 9, 2001]

"Labs make room for high performance" [Federal Computer Week, July 31, 2000]

"White House shifts encryption strategy" [Federal Computer Week, Sept. 20,1999]

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