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Press Release | Jan. 2, 2001

National Security Agency Shares Security Enhancements to LINUX

Recognizing the critical role of operating system security mechanisms in supporting security for critical and sensitive applications, National Security Agency (NSA) researchers have been investigating an operating system architecture that can provide the necessary security functionality in a manner that can meet the security needs of a wide range of computing environments. The NSA is pleased to announce that it has developed, and is making available to the public, a prototype version of a security-enhanced Linux system. The prototype includes enhancements to Linux that provide new, stronger protection against tampering and bypassing of application security mechanisms and greater limits on the damage that can be caused by malicious or flawed applications.

The security mechanisms implemented in the system provide flexible support for a wide range of security policies. The currently implemented access controls are a combination of type enforcement and role-based access control. The specific policy enforced by the kernel is dictated by security policy configuration files which include type enforcement and role-based access control components. This release includes a set of sample security policy configuration files designed to meet common, general-purpose security goals.

Both the President's National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-Terrorism and the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee have recently called for increasing the federal government's role as both user and contributor to open source software. "Open source software plays an increasingly important role in federal IT systems. I'm delighted the NSA's security experts are making this valuable contribution to the open source community," said Jeffery Hunker, Senior Director for Critical Infrastructure at the White House National Security Council.

Since this system is a prototype, there is still much work to be done to develop a complete security solution. Anyone interested in experimenting with the system or getting more information about it, should visit the project web site. This site contains the source to the system as well as some technical documentation about it.

NSA is presenting this system under the terms of the GNU General Public License with the intention to work with the Linux community to refine these enhancements for eventual inclusion into Linux. The system is not intended to be a complete security solution for Linux, nor does it correct any flaws that may currently exist in Linux.

The Information Assurance Research Office of the NSA is responsible for conducting research and advance development of technologies needed to enable the NSA to provide the Solutions, Products, and Services to achieve Information Assurance for information infrastructures critical to U.S. National Security interests. The security-enhanced Linux prototype was developed in conjunction with research partners from NAI Labs, Secure Computing Corporation (SCC), and MITRE Corporation. Researchers at the NSA implemented the security architecture in the major subsystems of the Linux kernel with some refinements provided by NAI Labs. SCC, MITRE, and NAI Labs also assisted the NSA in developing application security policies and enhanced utilities for the system.