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Pentagon open to commercial cloud suppliers, official says

Teresa Takai, the Defense Department's chief information officer, says the "paramount" goal of effective security in a cloud computing infrastructure is best achieved using an internal "private" system, though she wouldn't rule out use of commercial providers.

In oral testimony at a hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on April 6, Takai said Defense could opt for public cloud services offered by companies such as Google and Microsoft Corp.

In response to questions from Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., Takai said, "There will be instances where we [can] use commercial cloud providers ... [if] they meet our standards." She did not specify what type of applications Defense would host on a commercial cloud.

Takai added the department plans to tap the Defense Information Systems Agency, which already is providing private cloud services to the Army and email service for 1.4 million personnel. The Army, Takai said, is "looking to move [its] apps to the cloud."

One of her key priorities is to secure the Pentagon's classified networks after masses of data were illicitly siphoned off last fall to the WikiLeaks website, said Takai, who took office last October. In her prepared testimony, she said Defense plans to deploy a public key infrastructure-based identity credential on a hardened smart card for use on the department's Secret classified networks. It is similar to, but stronger than, the technology in the Common Access Card on unclassified networks.

Defense also plans to use a Host-Based Security System to protect classified networks, a tool that "will allow us to know who is on the network" and detect anomalous behavior, Takai told the hearing.

Langevin asked Takai what steps Defense plans to take to ensure the security of the supply chain of its computers and information systems, built from piece parts manufactured by foreign suppliers. "How do you drill down into the chain? Where do the products come from?" he asked.

Takai said this posed a difficult task for the department, which can determine the provenance of some major components on its own but will need the help of its vendors to tackle the subcomponents.

Elizabeth McGrath, Defense deputy chief management officer, told the hearing the department is in the midst of changing the way it acquires information technology systems intended to "to identify and deliver significant reforms."

McGrath acknowledged, "There has been no shortage of studies and reports, including one by this committee last year, that concluded the department's method for acquiring IT systems takes too long, costs too much and does not always deliver the desired capability to users," she said.

The new approach will focus on increased end-user involvement, well-defined requirements, incremental development, as well as testing and boosting the size and quality of the Defense IT workforce, McGrath said.

Takai said she wants to consolidate the Defense IT infrastructure into five broad areas: network services; computing services; application and data services; end-user services; and IT business processes. She promised to have a plan ready this spring.

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