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Pentagon directive targets fake parts, vulnerabilities in arms systems

Missiles are prepped for a test in Alaska in 2005.

Missiles are prepped for a test in Alaska in 2005. // Mark Farmer/AP

A new Pentagon directive is calling for new safeguards against fake parts and software vulnerabilities in arms and information systems. The mandate, which took effect Nov. 5, is likely to bring new momentum to funding of technology to protect military supply chains.

Signed by Teresa Takai, defense chief information officer, and Frank Kendall, under secretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, the directive asks for guidance, mechanisms and systems to control the security and configuration of software and hardware. It asks defense to push for new technology for “creating and identifying non-cryptologic software and hardware that is free from exploitable vulnerabilities and malicious intent.”

It calls for heads of defense units to come up with best practices to reduce occurrence of fake or compromised products. The order also asks for a way to give all critical components in systems an item unique identification so fakes can be better weeded out, and requires the implementation of test and evaluation protocols.

The number of so called “high-risk suppliers” to the U.S. government -- such as those reported to have sold suspect counterfeit products to military and commercial electronics channels -- rose 63 percent from 5,849 companies in 2002 to 9,539 in 2011, according to IHS iSuppli market research.

Multiple pushes have been brewing across Defense to address the security of weapons supply chains.

The Pentagon venture wing is holding briefings in anticipation of a funding drive called the Vetting Commodity IT Software and Firmware program. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency initiative aims to develop technology that can scan whether mobile phones, desktops and other devices are free of backdoors and other hidden malicious functionality. DARPA has noted the limitations of the technology available to execute this. “The goal of making this determination for every new device in a timely fashion at scale across all of DoD is beyond presently deployed techniques,” the agency stated in contracting documents.

Separately, the Defense Logistics Agency is mandating that suppliers of electronic microcircuits mark their items with deoxyribonucleic acid markings, according to an August directive. The suppliers would have to imprint their devices with SigNature DNA marking, which is developed by a company called Applied DNA Sciences. The system would allow electrical components in a device to be traced back to its supplier. The requirement applies to DLA procurements, the agency said.

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