Critical Read

Navigating NSA's Commercial Solutions for Classified program

What: A new report from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology on how to navigate the National Security Agency's Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) program.

Why: The CSfC program is an attempt to reconcile tough security standards for deploying products on national security systems with the rapid rate of change of commercial technologies. NSA says it has accelerated product evaluations from as long as 18 months to 90 days.

Although the CSfC program is meant to streamline the certification process, primers like the one produced by the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology further simplify it.

The program "presents a significant cultural shift for agencies and integrators, who need to adjust to the idea that commercial technology can be rapidly adopted for use within tightly controlled national security environments," the report states.

The biggest impediment to the use of commercial solutions in government systems has been a reluctance to cede control over the solutions, according to the report. The CSfC program tries to overcome that stigma by demonstrating the art of the possible.

The report outlines three "pillars" of CSfC: National Information Assurance Partnership certification, which tests products against NSA standards; a "layered defense" in which each component of a system is independently secure; and the assurance of components' interoperability and confidentiality through the use of commercial algorithms.

Vendors that want their products to be part of the CSfC program must submit to a federal standards validation process and interoperability testing, and enter into a memorandum of agreement with NSA, the report states. That agreement requires the company to work with NSA to "mitigate any discovered vulnerabilities that would impact the risk management posture of the CSfC solution."

Verbatim: "CSfC solutions set an achievable standardized method of meeting regulatory security requirements that would otherwise be unachievable in their environments."

Click here to read the full report.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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