Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


10:33 AM
Connect Directly

NSA Winds Down Secure Virtualization Platform Development

The National Security Agency's High Assurance Platform integrates security and virtualization technology into a framework that's been commercialized and adopted elsewhere in government.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters

After several years in the making and two releases, the National Security Agency is winding down new development of its secure client virtualization framework, the High Assurance Platform (HAP).

At HAP's inception, NSA wanted an integrated, networked framework of virtualization and security technology, but the market had yet to deliver one. So NSA set out to piece together the disparate hardware and software that commercial vendors had already placed on the market. "We saw all of these things," Neil Kittleson, the commercial solutions center's trusted computing portfolio manager, said in an interview. "And we saw the need to create custom policy around it to get them all to work in parallel."

Historically, intelligence agencies have used different computers for working with differing levels of classified data, but HAP allows multiple security levels -- from unclassified to top secret -- to operate on the same machine. HAP is managed by NSA's commercial solutions center, a group focused on engaging industry. The intent of the six-year-old program was to leverage purely commercial technologies, rather than relying on custom code and products designed specifically for government, as was long the norm for the intelligence community.

The HAP program was intended to push both NSA's tech boundaries and the industry's own virtualization and security offerings. This close work with vendors is central to the commercial solutions center's broader mission. For example, the office has an outreach element that has vendors come in and talk about emerging capabilities. "We want to know where they're going, understand that, and help influence development," Mike Lamont, chief of the NSA's network solutions office, said in an interview. Vendors of products being used in the HAP project include IBM, VMware, Wave Systems, and others.

"By developing this proof of concept, we've been able to take what we're doing, weave it together, and prove that it works," Kittleson said. NSA now offers a HAP developer kit, including source code and documentation, to allow organizations and vendors to plan their HAP deployment. HAP-compliant technologies have even made their way into the marketplace, with General Dynamics partnering with Dell in 2008 and HP in 2010 with its Trusted Virtual Environment.

When an organization decides to bring a new computer into the HAP environment, baseline measurements of the device (such as, for example, the BIOS configuration) are taken and stored on a remote attestation server. At boot time, HAP workstations go through a process where certain measurements get stored on the Trusted Platform Module, an embedded security chip that's found on many enterprise PCs these days. Then, upon connecting to a network, the remote attestation server verifies the new measurements against the pre-determined baselines. This remote attestation functionality is based on the open Trusted Network Connect network access control architecture.

HAP uses hardware like Intel TxT to protect memory and execution space, Intel VT-d to isolate I/O devices attached to the computer and operating system, and virtualization tweaks to enforce strict security policies. This prevents exploits like heap or stack-based memory buffer overflows as well as breaches due to direct memory access vulnerabilities and insufficient process isolation.

While many organizations have pieces of HAP's security architecture in place, the integrated security functionality is what, largely even today, makes HAP different from other client virtualization frameworks.

1 of 2
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
7 Old IT Things Every New InfoSec Pro Should Know
Joan Goodchild, Staff Editor,  4/20/2021
Cloud-Native Businesses Struggle With Security
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  5/6/2021
Defending Against Web Scraping Attacks
Rob Simon, Principal Security Consultant at TrustedSec,  5/7/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-16
The JSON web services in Liferay Portal 7.3.4 and earlier, and Liferay DXP 7.0 before fix pack 97, 7.1 before fix pack 20 and 7.2 before fix pack 10 may provide overly verbose error messages, which allows remote attackers to use the contents of error messages to help launch another, more focused att...
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-16
Denial-of-service (DoS) vulnerability in the Multi-Factor Authentication module in Liferay DXP 7.3 before fix pack 1 allows remote authenticated attackers to prevent any user from authenticating by (1) enabling Time-based One-time password (TOTP) on behalf of the other user or (2) modifying the othe...
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-16
The SimpleCaptcha implementation in Liferay Portal 7.3.4, 7.3.5 and Liferay DXP 7.3 before fix pack 1 does not invalidate CAPTCHA answers after it is used, which allows remote attackers to repeatedly perform actions protected by a CAPTCHA challenge by reusing the same CAPTCHA answer.
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-16
Delta Industrial Automation CNCSoft ScreenEditor Versions 1.01.28 (with ScreenEditor Version 1.01.2) and prior are vulnerable to an out-of-bounds read while processing project files, which may allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code.
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-16
Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in the Asset module's categories administration page in Liferay Portal 7.3.4 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the site name.