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multilevel security

Cloud Computing Discovers Covert Channels

A SANS Handler Notebook entry by Toby Kohlenberg reports on data leakage in cloud computing, and links to a terrific paper from some UCSD/MIT people: Ristenpart, Tromer, Shacham, and Savage.

If we set the wayback machine to the early 1970s, we find a paper by Butler Lampson about something called the confinement problem. It's the same thing. Ristenpart et al pick up some of the threads (like noninterference) though their paper doesn't point all the way back to Lampson.

This is a hard problem to solve. The only defense right now is if attackers lack the motivation to exploit it.

Obama's Blackberry: An interesting problem

Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic recently blogged about alternative Blackberries that President Obama may carry. Some people might wonder why this is such a big deal. Ambinder notes that "Government Blackberries" can handle classified information "up to Secret" but that you need a Sectera Edge from General Dynamics to do anything (voice only) at Top Secret.

Words of the President are obviously valuable, whether voice or text. Even if we ignore spies, think about the interest they carry for news reporters, government contractors, political operatives, and other presumed patriots. So, to start with, we have to ensure that the President's words are only released when he decides to do so.

The government has established several strategies for protecting information assets. While we don't necessarily know what they're doing in the White House, we can make some educated guesses. The problems, and solutions, revolve around multilevel security, also called MLS.

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Multilevel Security

I have moved some material about multilevel security (MLS) and 'cross domain systems' (CDS) onto this web site from my old Cryptosmith site. I've also included some brief comments on CDS. There is also a link to my MLS Introduction, which I will be updating and migrating to this site over the next few months.
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Multilevel Networking

As computer costs fell and performance soared during the 1980s and 1990s, computer networks became essential for sharing work and resources. Long before computers were routinely wired to the Internet, sites were building local area networks to share printers and files. In the defense community, multilevel data sharing had to be addressed in a networking environment. Initially, the community embraced networks of cheap computers as a way to temporarily sidestep the MLS problem. Instead of tackling the problem of data sharing, many organizations simply deployed separate networks to operate at different security levels, each running in system high mode.

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The MLS Assurance Problem

Members of the defense community identified the need for MLS-capable systems in the 1960s, and a few vendors implemented the basic features (Weissman 1969, Hoffman 1973, Karger and Schell 1974). However, government studies of the MLS problem emphasized the danger of relying on large, opaque operating systems to protect really valuable secrets (Ware 1970, Anderson 1972). Operating systems were already notorious for unreliability, and these reports highlighted the threat of a software bug allowing leaks of highly sensitive information. The recommended solution was to achieve high assurance through extensive analysis, review, and testing.

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The MLS Problem

Many businesses and organizations need to protect secret information, and most can tolerate some leakage. Organizations who use MLS systems tolerate no leakage at all. Businesses may face legal or financial risks if they fail to protect business secrets, but they can generally recover afterwards by paying to repair the damage. At worst, the business goes bankrupt. Managers who take risks with business secrets might lose their jobs if secrets are leaked, but they are more likely to lose their jobs to failed projects or overrun budgets. This places a limit on the amount of money a business will invest in data secrecy.

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