October 27, 2000

by Steven Witucki, assistant editor


The federal government has for years relied on an encryption standard known as DES, but the code has been showing signs of age. Cryptographers have constructed computer systems that could quickly crack DES messages. After a three-year worldwide search for a new encryption technique powerful enough to earn the official endorsement of the United States government, the Commerce Department named a winner: Rijndael. Rijndael (whose creators suggest pronunciations approximating “Rhine doll”) does not become a new standard overnight. Officials said that in the coming weeks the institute would publish a notice in the Federal Register recommending the software as the new Federal Information Processing Standard. After 90 days for comment and revision, the secretary of commerce will most likely accept the proposal. Once approved as a standard, the algorithm can be used for sensitive, but not classified, information, and will be adopted by many government agencies and by organizations doing business with the government. The algorithm, which has been publicly available for more than a year, can be plugged into many kinds of software for sending e-mail or managing computer files. Institute officials said that they expected to see the first commercial products incorporating Rijndael to appear within days.


The U.S. Navy awarded Electronic Data Systems Corp. a huge contract for data services in a deal that could be worth more than $10 billion and change the face of government computing. EDS will build a seamless, secure “intranet”, or private Web on Internet standards, to replace the current mish-mash of more than 200 Navy and Marine Corps electronic gateways. The awarding of the five-year contract Friday, with an option to extend for three, was hailed as pivotal by the Defense Department, which spent $289 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. “It gets the government out of the business of owning and operating information technology systems,” Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon said. “The potential for increased efficiency, standardization, interoperability and better business practices is tremendous.”

Under the contract, EDS will take over in phases the ownership, upkeep and updating of about 360,000 desktop computers throughout the United States. The initial five-year contract was for $6.9 billion. The optional three years are said by Navy officials to be worth at least $1 billion a year, bringing the potential combined value to at least $9.9 billion. Navy officials said options to add telephone, video-conferencing, cell phones and personal digital assistants could swell the deal beyond that. The new system, called the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, or NMCI, will tie together all shore commands and provide voice, video and data services in a more easily secured environment, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig told a Pentagon briefing.


Four years after entering the High Performance Computing (HPC) market, Sun Microsystems, Inc. has risen past IBM, Compaq and SGI to become the second leading supplier of HPC systems during the first half of the year. Powered by the strength of the company’s flagship Sun Enterprise 10000 server (commonly known as Starfire), the company leaped from a fifth-place ranking to a close second in the space of two quarters. During the first two quarters of calendar year 2000, Sun represented a solid 20 percent of the market with revenue of $580 million, according to IDC’s second quarter report on the High Performance Technical Computer market. Sun’s HPC market share is 20 times larger than it was in 1996, its first full year in the market. Annual revenue since then has skyrocketed from $50 million to more than $1 billion.


The head of the super-secret U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) said that cyberspace had become as important a potential battlefield as any other and held out the prospect of attacking there as well as defending. “Information is now a place,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden told a major computer security conference. “It is a place where we must ensure American security as surely as … and, sea, air and space.” He cited moves to define the “legal structure into which we must fit” before offensive “information operations” – cyberattacks – were officially added to the arsenal that U.S. commanders can use against a foe. The NSA is the Defense Department arm that intercepts communications worldwide.

Hayden said a key challenge to the NSA today was to protect U.S. telecommunications in a world where the adversaries might be “cyberterrorists, a malicious hacker or even a non-malicious hacker.” “All can cause great harm” to the networked systems that tie the industrialized world together, he told the conference co-sponsored by the NSA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an arm of the Commerce Department. Hayden said the NSA, the Pentagon’s codemaking and codebreaking agency, was committed to developing its partnerships with industry to boost computer network security.


Representatives of the nation’s leading supercomputer users – government organizations, major industrial firms and university-based research centers – have launched a plan to create more-rigorous performance tests. At the first annual meeting of the HPC User Forum, organized by research analyst firm IDC, members heard the plan outlined by Robert Lucas, head of HPC Research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC). The plan calls for a team that includes Lucas, Erich Strohmaier and others to select applications to be used in the benchmark suite, test and adapt them to run on various systems, develop and release the test suite and then collect performance results after the benchmarks are run on supercomputer (HPC) systems from various vendors. The results would then be analyzed to see if the initial objectives were met. “The new benchmark suite must be simple enough to be usable and maintained, complex enough to reflect the influence of all system attributes of interest, and scalable to utilize resources in a variety of system sizes over a ten-year period,” according to Erich Strohmaier, who publishes the “Top500” list with Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, and Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim (Germany).


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