By Jason Miller
November 26, 2007
The Office of Management and Budget has told agencies that use Microsoft
Windows XP or Vista to begin using the governments approved secure
desktop configuration by February 2008, but it hinted that the Windows
operating system was only the beginning of a more extensive program.
The next phase may be under way as the National Security Agency works
with Apple, Sun Microsystems and Red Hat to develop secure baseline
standards for those vendors latest operating systems. NSA has worked
with Apple and Sun for years. However, for the first time, Red Hat has
asked for help in securing an operating system, its Enterprise Linux 5.
Weve had our own hardening tips, and for this version we wanted to work
with NSA since [we] have a close relationship with them already, said
Karl Wirth, Red Hats director of security solutions.
OMB officials said they are not involved in NSAs effort with those
companies, but some private-sector experts say the vendors work with NSA
to develop baseline standards is similar to that which Microsoft
undertook. They see those efforts as a first step toward establishing a
federal secure configuration standard for those operating systems.
Vendors who compete with Microsoft saw the White House announcement as a
threat, said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute.
OMB was not standardizing on Microsoft and said they would talk to
others to ensure their products are secure, too.
Paller said that once NSA gives its blessing to a vendors product, it
would make sense for non-Defense Department and intelligence agencies to
follow NSAs lead.
However, NSAs security guidance is not mandatory for civilian agencies.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued security
checklists, which are not standards, for some Apple, Sun and Red Hat
NSA worked with Sun and Apple on security for their previous releases of
the Solaris 8 and 9 and Panther and Tiger operating systems,
respectively. Now NSA is developing standard configurations for Suns
Solaris 10 and Apples Leopard operating systems.
NSAs Information Assurance Directorate works with many companies to
examine product security on behalf of DOD customers, said Tony Sager,
chief of vulnerability analysis and operations at the directorate.
The product security guides help NSA users make informed decisions about
security and help analysts better understand emerging technologies, he
Bill Vass, president and chief operating officer of Sun Federal, said
Suns work with NSA is not unusual, and he added that he wouldnt be
surprised if OMB or NIST mandated a secure baseline configurations for
all Unix operating systems because Apple, Sun and Red Hat are derived
Vass said OMB and NIST could mandate a basic Unix secure configuration
standard and offer subsets for Apple, Sun, Red Hat and others.
It is a natural evolution for NIST and OMB to say use this standard,
The reason OMB did this on Vista is the risk and pervasiveness of those
NSA worked with NIST on the Microsoft Windows XP and Vista baselines,
and it is now developing a national program to collect, automate,
measure and report information technology vulnerability data, Sager
Sager said NSA did not analyze Microsofts code. However, the agency
reviewed and analyzed different configuration settings, such as the
number of characters in a password, to determine which ones were most
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