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By Brian Robinson

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DOE pitches $10M for energy cybersecurity

The Energy Department has finally announced details of the grant it will award for setting up a National Electric Sector Cyber Security Organization, which will be the major authority charged with protecting the electricity grid.

The good news is that it’s worth around $10 million. The bad news is that potential applicants have less than a month -- until April 30 -- to pull their applications together.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory  is managing the process for DOE.

The department first made the announcement about the new organization at the beginning of this year. The idea is to have it develop and establish safeguards for emerging technologies such as the smart grid, which will use IT to tie intelligent meters and other devices together to give a better way of managing power demand and supply.

The DOE said it’s on an aggressive schedule “to meet the Nation's need for a reliable, efficient and resilient electric power grid.” However, given that it’s now four years after the department published its Roadmap to Secure Control Systems in the Energy Sector, you have to wonder what it means by aggressive.

Nevertheless, at least we now have a concrete next step in place.

Posted on Apr 02, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


Feds prepare RAMP for cloud

As we all know, the federal government is headed for the cloud, though some parts of it seem to be getting there more slowly than others. Now the Cloud Computing Advisory Council, an offshoot of Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra’s ambitions for government IT, wants to speed things up.

A new program named FedRAMP, which could be up and running in a few months, will try to move things along by providing a single entity through which the government could authorize cloud services for use by agencies.

In an interview with GovInfoSecurity.com, the vice chair of the council, NIST’s Peter Mell, said the details of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program has been sent to agencies for their blessing, and the program will go into pilot as soon as that is given.

Security is probably the biggest sticking point when it comes to the feds’ use of the cloud, at least the public cloud. Currently, it’s up to each agency to make sure that the cloud it uses is secure enough to store its data and move it around in the cloud.

FedRAMP, which follows NIST’s most recent guidance on government security, would apparently create the first agreed governmentwide security requirements for cloud services, among other things.

I don’t think I’m the only one who's wondering how enthusiastic individual agencies are about moving to the cloud, given all the other IT stuff they have to contend with. But the above is just one more indication of the administration’s seriousness, at least, along with earlier indications of how fed IT budgets will flow to the cloud.

Posted on Mar 30, 2010 at 9:03 AM2 comments


The Army's smart turn to battlefield apps

Smart phone technology is taking over the rest of the world it seems, so why should the U.S. military be immune? The Army, at least, seems to be willing to see how far it can go, even on the front lines.

Ars Technica reported on a recent visit that the Army’s top propeller heads made to Apple to check out how the technology behind the company’s hugely popular mobile products could be used in tactical situations, apparently part of a larger push by the Army in that direction.

Makes a lot of sense, from various angles. Major General Nick Justice, who leads the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command, said the service is moving away from “big-green-box solutions” and is looking to leverage the kind of billion dollar investments that Apple and other companies have put into this kind of mobile tech.

Suffice to say, the Army’s brass have probably also been made aware of the fact that many of its young soldiers already make use of things like iPods out in the field, at least in terms of the apps that can be developed for particular situations.

That’s also a ready-made app development force, given the fact that many of those soldiers were already probably developing and coding for the iPhone and other devices before they enlisted. Or, at least, they have a natural app-titude (get it?) for doing that.

The Army is trying to tap that talent through a recently announced “Apps for the Army” competition aimed at creating smart phone and Web applications that will “enhance warfighting effectiveness”.

This is a step beyond current mobile research and development efforts. The Army already has it’s Go Mobile program that allows its soldiers to use smart phones to access Army Knowledge Online, through which they can e-mail, conference with other soldiers, download information they need, and more.

This is all a way for the Army to deploy leading edge technology without having to go to the expense of building it all itself. They also get to tap into that knowledgeable and enthusiastic development force. Plus, they get all of that out there and into the hands of its soldiers much, much faster.

The Army finally goes mobile! 

Posted on Mar 29, 2010 at 9:03 AM1 comments


White House wants students' brainy broadband ideas

It’s fine to solicit ideas from the crowd, but when you want something that’s really focused on solutions, you need to go directly to the brainy bunch.

At least that’s what I read into the White House’s most recent idea to turn to university graduates for suggestions on killer broadband apps. With the right kind of support, wrote Tom Kalil and Aneesh Chopra on the White House blog, students can once again play the role of innovators.

Kalil, the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s deputy director for policy, and federal chief technology officer Chopra point to a recent Computing Research Association document that details some past student creations: data compression, Ethernet, Unix, spreadsheets, Google and other innovations.

Kalil and Chopra are now suggesting that the time is right for students to once more step into the role of innovators. They say a new initiative could include a number of elements, such as:

  • Campus-based incubators for the development of broadband applications, with access to high-speed networks, cutting-edge peripherals, software development kits and cloud computing services.
  • Relevant courses that encourage multidisciplinary teams of students to design and develop broadband applications.
  • Competitions that recognize compelling applications developed by students. Some existing competitions that could serve as models include Google’s Android Developer Challenge, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup and the Federal Communications Commission/Knight Foundation’s Apps for Inclusion Challenge.

Fair enough. But “once again”? Maybe I’ve gotten the wrong impression in the past few decades. Minus a couple of years during the dot-com fiasco when many university students were looking to sell business plans for gazillions of dollars, I thought universities had consistently been innovating.

Maybe I’m wrong. Put me right if I am.

Posted on Mar 26, 2010 at 9:03 AM1 comments


Cyber war, drug war -- what's the difference?

Some senators introduced a bipartisan bill this week that would require the U.S. government to crack down on countries that harbor cyber criminals by imposing sanctions, if necessary.

The International Cybercrime Reporting and Cooperation Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), is being likened to the beginning of a cyber version of the war on drugs.

Apparently, the president would be required to report annually to Congress on the state of particular countries’ use of information technology in their infrastructure, how much cyber crime is based in that country, what the country is doing to fight cyber crime, etc. The resulting table of cyber crime offenders would then be used to decide what sanctions to apply.

The war on drugs is a good analogy, but the bill is also similar to older efforts to try to stamp out anti-competitive trade practices. In fact, many of the countries that regularly found themselves highlighted in those reports – China, Russia and others – would probably also appear at the top of the cyber crime tables.

One thing that’s different is that the Gillibrand-Hatch bill calls on the United States to focus its carrot-and-stick approach on countries that don’t have much of a cyber infrastructure now, so that any aid the U.S. provides to help them build that infrastructure would be tied to making sure those cyber-poor nations keep the criminals out.

Sounds cool, except that the analogies don’t provide for much optimism. The war on drugs has largely been a failure, and the trade sanctions stuff mainly served to make people mad and resulted in very little real reduction in anti-competitive behavior.

Also, as this Ars Technica story points out, the countries that have reputedly been the most active in hosting domestic hacker/cyber crime efforts – such as China and Russia – don’t get a lot of aid from the U.S. and are only too happy to thumb their noses at us.

A final point: Is this bill, and other legislation like it that will presumably come along, a prelude to a cyber Cold War? I mean, if we are talking about analogies, why not throw that one out there? Once we actually decide on what cyber war is, that seems a natural next step.

Posted on Mar 25, 2010 at 9:03 AM3 comments


NIST to map road to digital record preservation

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is hosting the first part of a really important series of meetings at its Maryland headquarters next week as a first step toward developing a national road map to digital record preservation.

The meetings will bring together government, industry and academic experts on the subject to answer just one question: Can digital preservation repositories be effectively accessible and interoperable across varieties of systems and devices throughout the life cycle of their content?

The answer to that question goes to the core of just about all of the Web 2.0 and subsequent generations of digital technologies. Cloud computing, for example, will not be possible without it.

The second part of the NIST meetings will be held in Dresden, Germany, in April where the same question will be put to the international community, the goal there being to extend this digital preservation road map into the arena of global standards-making.

It looks like March and April will be a grand old time for all of you digital preservation nerds out there. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access (they really need a sexier title!) will be meeting April 1 in Washington to talk about digital preservation “sustainable practices.”

Have fun, you crazy kids!

Posted on Mar 23, 2010 at 9:03 AM0 comments


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