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Cisco, EMC, MS Help Out Uncle Sam

EMC, Cisco, and Microsoft link arms against government data breaches

With the U.S. government under continued pressure to improve its security strategies, Cisco, EMC, and Microsoft have responded with a strategy to help. (See EMC Teams With Cisco & Microsoft, Homeland Security Spending Spree, and Report: Feds Need Security.)

This IT power troika is touting a partnership called the Secure Information Sharing Architecture (SISA) in an attempt to bridge the perceived communications gap between government agencies and their suppliers -- while, of course, bringing in revenue.

Identity and access management is at the heart of SISA, which aims to ensure that only authorized personnel can access specific data. With Cisco and EMC providing, respectively, networking and storage hardware, Microsoft will offer digital rights management and identity management software to control who gets access to what. Software from EMC's RSA acquisition will be used to encrypt data. (See EMC Acquires RSA and Tucci Aims for 'One EMC'.)

Other vendors involved in the SISA initiative include digital rights management specialist Liquid Machines, data protection vendor Swan Island Networks, and classification specialist Titus Labs. EMC's SISA manager Francie Kress told Byte and Switch that the door is also open for other storage and security vendors to get involved. "We assume that other people will soon be part of this, but there's nothing to announce."

Kress says the three leading vendors pre-test their SISA offerings, which will be built to order. The vendors' proof-of-concept deployment was in the defense sector, according to the exec. "Our original customer was someone that was dealing with coalition forces and wanted to share sensitive information with their partners," she says. "Before, they could not use technology to share information."

Kress won't reveal exactly how many government agencies have deployed SISA, or their identities, but she insists that "several" are using the technology.

The rise of SISA is no surprise. In the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. government has been forced to rethink its approach to protecting data, with mixed results. (See Portable Problems Prompt IT Spending, Pundits Ponder Potential Pitfalls, Breaches Stress Need to Improve, and CSIA Releases Agenda .) Last year, for example, the Veterans Administration hit the headlines thanks to a missing laptop containing the Social Security numbers of millions of veterans. (See VA Reports Massive Data Theft, VA Picks GuardianEdge, and On the Brink of Storage Disaster.)

Making matters worse, there is concern in some agencies that lack of communication between vendors and the federal government is hindering security efforts, particularly when it comes to encryption. (See Red Tape Trips Up Security.) At one point, the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Homeland Security called on storage vendors to help the government out. (See USAF Issues Storage Challenge and Ridge Issues Security Challenge.)

SISA is aimed at bridging the government's IT gaps. One potential use for the alliance's offering could be in planning for pandemics such as an outbreak of avian flu, something which is increasingly on the radar for CIOs and IT managers. (See Pandemic Plans Pan Out, Biz Continuity Goes Back to Basics, CIOs Ponder Potential Pandemic, and Will DOD Catch Flu?)

EMC's Kress explained that SISA could monitor confidential pandemic data in different government agencies and coordinate the necessary response efforts, an issue highlighted by the recent case of TB traveller Andrew Speaker. "Some people knew that information, but they could not share it effectively through the infrastructure," says Kress.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)
  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)
  • Input
  • Liquid Machines Inc.
  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • Titus Labs
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