DOD asks contractors to protect unclassified data

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Defense Department is working with contractors to shore up data security on their internal networks, one company at a time.

DOD is negotiating agreements with individual companies, starting with large integrators, to protect sensitive or controlled but unclassified information on their internal networks, said John Grimes, DOD’s chief information officer.

To date, the department has crafted four agreements, he said. DOD is also working on acquisition regulations that would require contractors to secure sensitive but unclassified information in addition to classified information, which is already regulated.

“But in the meantime, we’ve got to button up our systems now,” he said today at the Information Processing Interagency Conference. Industry has been very cooperative, he added.

Large integrators delivering weapons systems, for example, process and store government information on their internal networks. DOD wants all contractors to protect such information.

“If you’re not careful, if someone gets access to it, they can take pieces of it and aggregate it,” Grimes said. “All of a sudden the information, when it is aggregated, is highly classified.”

Partners and subcontractors have access to a prime contractor’s intranets, he added. DOD has encountered examples of controlled data moving beyond the contractor’s internal networks through authorized access. Such data exfiltration is a byproduct of the outsourcing and globalization of the supply chain, Grimes said. However, DOD wants contractors to strengthen their data protection.

The department conducted its first meeting with industry representatives to discuss the issue in July 2007, he said.

To prevent data exfiltration, DOD officials are considering incorporating the standard developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology for sharing controlled but unclassified information and alerting contractors when data exfiltration is suspected.

However, legal issues complicate the government’s ability to determine if an individual is using pieces of the data in an unauthorized manner because companies’ proprietary information might be involved, Grimes said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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