NMCI cleared for classified net

Pentagon officials give approval to Navy to connect users on SIPRNET to NMCI

The Navy Marine Corps Intranet has reached another critical milestone, with the Pentagon giving the Navy the go-ahead to connect about 40,000 users working on the Defense Department's classified network.

"It absolutely is a significant milestone," said Capt. Chris Christopher, NMCI's deputy director of plans, policy and oversight. "We have a whole bunch of classified seats that we have to be able to roll out," which would have been impossible without getting this authority.

In a memorandum from the Joint Staff, dated July 16, NMCI was granted a six-month "interim authority to operate," giving NMCI the authority to connect to DOD's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, called SIPRNET. Officials said it is typical for the Joint Staff to give out a six-month interim authority to connect.

Bill Richard, EDS' NMCI enterprise client executive, downplayed the importance of the SIPRNET connection. But Christopher said that obtaining the classified connection was a "necessary step."

Bart Abbott, NMCI program manager for Raytheon Systems Co., the security subcontractor for EDS, called the connection an "important milestone." PCs with the classified SIPRNET connections represent about 10 percent of the overall 400,000 NMCI seats, Abbott said.

SIPRNET is DOD's classified network that military personnel use for accessing classified applications and databases and for secure messaging. Although it uses IP standards, it is physically and logically separate from all other computer systems using dedicated and encrypted lines.

Users who have need for both the classified and unclassified networks often have two PCs on their desks. Abbott said the classified and unclassified PCs look similar except for the red desktop on the screen of the classified machines signaling that it is connected to a classified network, Abbott said.

The Defense Information Systems Agency, which operates SIPRNET, has an intensive test for ensuring that systems are secure before they are allowed to connect to the classified network, said retired Col. John Thomas, former chief of DISA's Global Operations and Security Office and now director of strategic programs for EMC Corp.

The review also examines the physical safety of classified seats, Abbott said. "There is a standard government certification process for any place where you have classified seats."

Officials from the Joint Command must review a network's security and attest that they not only trust the deployment of the security architecture, but that they trust the management of that architecture, Thomas said.

"It settled the issue about whether the proposed [security] architecture would be acceptable," Abbott said.

The Navy did have classified connections at NMCI's network operations centers located in Norfolk, Va., and San Diego, he said. The interim authority allows the Navy and EDS to begin rolling out PCs that are connected to SIPRNET.

Although the three-page memo gives the Navy and EDS authority to connect to SIPRNET, the Joint Staff rejected a proposal to use WorldCom Inc.'s commercial wide-area network to provide additional bandwidth.

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