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Cisco, EMC, and Microsoft Deliver Blueprint For Secure Data Sharing

The consortium will help federal government agencies develop IT networks and systems that more efficiently and securely share information.

Three of the world's largest technology providers Tuesday introduced a consortium they've created to help federal government agencies develop IT networks and systems that more efficiently and securely share information. Together, Cisco Systems, EMC, and Microsoft plan to offer the federal government services and off-the-shelf technology as part of a venture they're calling the Secure Information Sharing Architecture. Business IT managers take note: If SISA is a hit with the government, it'll be coming to the private sector as well.

Two years in the works, the Secure Information Sharing Architecture, or SISA, was created in response to the federal government's growing need over the past decade or so to more effectively and securely share information. These two objectives -- data sharing that's both effective and secure -- are often at odds with one another, Eric Rosenkranz, industry manager in Microsoft's Public Sector organization, told InformationWeek Tuesday. "One is looking to lock down data and the other is looking to enable better data sharing across jurisdictional boundaries," he added. "No single government organization or vendor can do this on its own."

Yet finding this balance couldn't be more important to public safety and to the government's counterterrorism efforts. SISA, which is based on technology that most agencies already use, offers "the infrastructure to do what we in government have only been talking about," Grace Mastalli, Homeland Security's former director of information sharing and collaboration, told InformationWeek Tuesday. She added that, despite "huge amounts of money" spent by the federal government in various efforts to create data-sharing networks, SISA is an idea that could actually make secure data sharing a reality.

As an "architecture", SISA is an effort by Cisco, EMC, and Microsoft to pre-integrate different products so that government agencies can focus more on setting security policy than on setting up technology. The companies are offering several services to help agencies get started. These services address access, content, and data protection, as well as management of the architecture.

In addition to Cisco, EMC, and Microsoft, the alliance behind SISA includes Liquid Machines digital rights management software, Titus Labs' information labeling and classification technology, and Swan Island Networks products and services for designing and operating information-sharing systems. The alliance is expected to grow as new data sharing security needs are identified by the founding members.

SISA's members are offering four different services at this time. Access protection services are designed to help federal government agencies set up secure network connections and identity management using, for example, Microsoft Active Directory, Windows, and EMC's RSA two-factor authentication technologies. Content protection services, which include technology from Liquid Machines and Titus Labs, are designed to make sure users sending information throughout government networks can control who has access to that information and what they can do with that information.

Data protection services secure information at rest with the help of Cisco and EMC on the network and Microsoft on the desktop. And SISA's "watchdog" services will let government agencies create a baseline of system performance and data flow so that they can quickly and more easily identify problems. New services will be added as the architecture evolves. One service already in the works is one to help the government establish federated identity management across different agencies.

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