Secure messaging tool for defense collaborative software suite awaits approval
Asynchrony Solutions has put the finishing touches on software that will enable Defense Department personnel to work together online with instant messaging, file sharing and other features popular among Internet users — all in a secure environment.
Asynchrony's Envoke software is one of several products DOD has tested to be part of the Defense Collaboration Tool Suite (DCTS), a set of commercial products intended to enable geographically separated users to chat, conduct videoconferences and share documents, slides and applications online.
Envoke provides two key functions for DCTS: global awareness, so users can see who else is online, and instant messaging, so users can send messages back and forth without using an e-mail application.
"Envoke provides an awareness of what's happening with the other products within the suite — people, places and events — so you don't have to check each one," said Bob Elfanbaum, vice president and co-founder of the St. Louis-based company. "You can see if a conference or room you have to go to is available, or if someone's online."
The secure instant messaging feature includes a logging capability that enables a manager to audit the messaging traffic. This was a "core component from the start that we built into it," Elfanbaum said. After meeting all of DOD's needs and requirements, Asynchrony officials plan to move the product to the commercial market, he said.
Asynchrony has been working with DOD on Envoke since last April, when DOD transferred ownership of the intellectual property to the company.
Other products in the tool suite include Lotus Development Corp.'s Sametime; Microsoft Corp.'s NetMeeting, Digital Dashboard and Outlook; Sun Microsystems Inc.'s SunForum; First Virtual Communications Inc.'s (formerly CUseeMe Networks Inc.'s) Conference Server; and the DCTS Digital Dashboard.
John Wohlfarth, a research analyst at the Anser Institute for Homeland Security, said he wasn't familiar with Envoke but did know that e-mail messages and instant messages sent through commercial providers such as America Online Inc. are "easily intercepted."
"I could certainly see how DOD, other federal agencies, and some state and local governments would have a use for" secure instant messaging, he said.
Asynchrony will provide DOD with a set number of Envoke licenses free of charge, which the department is expected to use up within a year. The company will then charge $20,000 per server, which includes the clients and bridges to the various tools, Elfanbaum said.
In a January 2001 draft memo, Art Money, then DOD's chief information officer, asked all DOD organizations to adopt DCTS by Oct. 1, 2001. But last August, the department issued another memo stating that — at a date yet to be determined — guidelines for testing other software for DCTS interoperability would be forthcoming.
Now it appears that DOD will be making that DCTS mandate within the next 60 days, and the suite should be up and running for about 50,000 users in various organizations by the end of the fiscal year, Elfanbaum said.
DOD officials could not confirm the 60-day approval timeline for DCTS and even went so far as to say that it sounded "optimistic."
And although Envoke currently supports only the approved DCTS, there are plans to add other products, such as Ezenia Inc.'s InfoWorkSpace, which has a large user community in the intelligence field and the military services.
"Envoke is not meant just as a bridge to these [DCTS] components, but a bridge to other collaboration tools in the field," Elfanbaum said. He added that in the next six months, the company plans to expand the number of bridges to other collaboration environments, while maintaining a focus on DCTS.
Asynchrony officials are in discussions with federal agencies outside the defense and intelligence communities, Elfanbaum added. Then, the company plans to raise more investment capital and build the commercial market for the product.
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