By sharing national security intelligence through the cloud, the government can modulate the classification level of information and who has permission to see the data, a Pentagon intelligence official said Wednesday.
While some federal agencies shy away from cloud computing for fear of losing control over their data, the intelligence community and military increasingly are turning to networked services expressly to exert tighter security restraints.
"We have nobs to turn that actually give us much more fidelity," said Jim Heath, National Security Agency senior science adviser, at an event organized by Nextgov's sister publication Government Executive and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. Pentagon leaders have said a cloud environment will let the Defense Department remotely secure its separate systems, creating a uniform level of security across all the military's electronics.
In remote regions that are offline, where there is data to be analyzed but no Internet access, the cloud could one day be reachable through satellite connections, Terry Roberts, an executive director at Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute, said in an interview. The cloud here refers to computing resources that are managed remotely for multiple users to ease collaboration and cut costs through economies of scale.
Companies such as ViaSat are working to combine their satellite communications services with massive data processing systems, such as Amazon's Web services, to support analysts in areas that are off the grid, including parts of the Middle East and the middle of an ocean.
"It allows you to access satellite frequency much cheaper," said Roberts, former deputy director of naval intelligence for Defense.
Heath said one of the benefits of parsing data in the cloud is the setup's speed and ubiquity. "Timely means that you aren't restricted in terms of trying to get the data in the timeframe that's required for a mission," he said.
The trick to using cloud technologies for intelligence purposes is to build in basic protections that can be modified whenever the system is updated, observers say.
"Getting those right from the beginning is one of the core missions of NSA from an information sharing standpoint," Heath said. "That's a work in progress in terms of trying to establish and validate those."
The original story inadvertently misquoted Jim Heath in the third paragraph. It has been corrected.