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7/22/2011
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Not Your Average Linux Distribution: DOD's Flavor

The Department of Defense has released a unique Linux distribution with special security considerations for telecommuters.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) has released a unique Linux distribution designed to be a secure option for people, such as telecommuters, who need remote access to internal government and corporate networks from potentially insecure desktops.

Created by a collaboration between the DOD and the Air Force Research Laboratory, Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) can be booted from a CD or flash drive onto nearly any Intel-based PC or Mac, according to information posted on the project's website.

The idea behind the distribution is to give people a secure option for accessing firewall-protected networks and the Web from home or shared PCs or Macs, the military said.

"LPS-Public turns an untrusted system (such as a home computer) into a trusted network client," according to the DOD. "No trace of work activity (or malware) can be written to the local computer," nor is there any record of what users did on the PC during the session.

While a public image of LPS is available online for free download for anyone, the DOD may have created it with federal government teleworkers in mind.

In December, President Obama signed the Federal Telework Act of 2010 into law, codifying an activity the federal government already was beginning to embrace on a wider scale. Just this week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released security guidelines for those teleworkers to ensure they are not exposing federal networks to vulnerabilities while working outside of the office.

The DOD also has released a quick-start guide to help people use the distribution.

LPS does not install any software onto a local machine, nor are administrator privileges required to use the software. Once users boot up LPS from an external storage source, they can use a computer for general Web browsing and connecting to a remote network.

The distribution includes a smart-card enabled Firefox browser supporting common access card (CAC) and personal identity verification (PIV) cards, a PDF and text viewer, Java, and Encryption Wizard-Public, according to the DOD.

LPS is different from other Linux distributions in several ways, the DOD said. Since it's designed to run from read-only media, it has no persistent storage and has no need to be continually patched. However, the software will be patched on at least a quarterly basis, and the DOD will release maintenance updates periodically, it said.

Even if malware infiltrates the OS it can only run within the session in which it infects LPS, the military said. To add even more security to LPS, users can reboot between sessions or before engaging in activity that's particularly sensitive or vulnerable.

For example, LPS developers suggest booting LPS immediately before performing online banking transactions, and after visiting risky websites or if they think the machine may have been infected with malware.

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