Big Data

NSA returns to open source

The agency usually known for its devotion to secrecy has again jumped into the world of public open-source coding.

In a Nov. 25 announcement, National Security Agency officials said they were making their tool Niagarafiles, or NiFi, publicly available in the hope that industry would modify it to handle commercial big-data needs.

The technology helps automate high-volume data flows among multiple computer networks, even if those networks use different formats and protocols. NSA said the private sector could use the technology in various ways to control, manage and analyze information from geographically dispersed sites to create comprehensive situational awareness.

Given its reputation for secrecy and controversial surveillance programs, the agency turned to a less emotionally charged group to distribute the code: NiFi is available through the Apache Software Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation sponsored by a decentralized community of software developers.

NSA said NiFi is the first in a series of releases of software developed under its Technology Transfer Program. Officials said posting the software to open-source forums lets the private sector get a close-up look at the agency's research and make suggestions about enhancements and other uses for the technology.

NSA officials said they often use open-source offerings to bolster creativity and agility as they develop new technologies.

In 2011, NSA contributed a technology dubbed Accumulo to the Apache foundation as an incubator project for sorting big data, which Apache turned into a top development priority.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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