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NSA begins crypto upgrade
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2001 00:20:49 -0500 (CDT)


By George I. Seffers 
Sept. 10, 2001

The National Security Agency is beginning a 15-year,
multibillion-dollar effort to modernize the nation's cryptographic
systems, which are rapidly growing obsolete and vulnerable.

Cryptographic systems encode messages and include such tools as secure
telephones, tactical radios and smart cards. Virtually every federal
department and agencyincluding the military, the White House,
intelligence agencies and the State Departmentuse encryption.

But existing encryption algorithms are no longer cutting-edge, and
hardware for many systems is becoming obsolete. Replacing them is a
top goal for NSA's information assurance directorate, said Michael
Jacobs, who heads the directorate.

"When it comes to protecting our information, the first line of
defense is NSA- provided cryptography," said Vice Adm. Richard Mayo,
Navy director of space, information warfare, command and control,
speaking before the House Armed Services Committee in May. Mayo said
the Navy, joint forces and allied militaries have more than "400,000
such cryptographic products of varying type in our inventory for
voice, video and data."

"A lot of that [hardware] technology is at or [is] getting to the
point where you cannot obtain replacement parts, so it's becoming a
maintenance problem," Jacobs said. He noted that the security features
in the cryptographic systems"specifically the underlying cryptographic
algorithms"are nearing the end of their life expectancy.

The agency recently published a cryptography plan and shared its
vision with 70 potential vendors this summer. NSA will fund early
development of new technologies under the Crypto Moderni.zation
Program, and the various departments and agencies will acquire the
systems once they have been developed.

"Information system security is the name of the game, and if NSA
cannot guarantee that security, it is a serious problem," said Steven
Aftergood, intelligence policy analyst for the Federation of American
Scientists. "It's a problem for everyone who depends on secure
communications, and that's almost everyone in government."

NSA's budget is classified, but Jacobs said the agency has budgeted
"multiple millions" of dollars just to update its cryptographic
systems in 2002 and is seeking to increase funding in its 2003 to 2008
budget plan.

"We're at the front end of this process, which in terms of dollar
value is a lot smaller than the middle and back end, where acquisition
starts," Jacobs said.

Agency officials must decide which families of equipment they
initially want to modify or replace; the first modernized products
will likely be delivered in 2004.

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