classified top-secret-data

Military-Grade Secure Solid State Drives Part 5: The Backdoor VIPs Don’t Know About

I used to work for a company that required us to remove any proprietary data from our laptop hard drive prior to traveling to some countries overseas. I didn’t know if it was because they could secretly access my hard drive as soon as I passed through immigration, or maybe a government-run internet meant any foreign user access would be monitored, recorded, and analyzed! I didn’t understand the multitude of threats to data security, which also includes backdoors designed into untrusted hardware that can lie dormant until triggered by an outside force. At the time, I did not have access to classified or top secret data, as I was working for a commercial company, but imagine if I did have high value data. What if a backdoor was triggered once I logged onto an unsecure foreign network?  What if that backdoor initiated a complete download of my hard drive without my knowledge? All because my employer trusted a commercial SSD without strict supply chain management of foreign-made components.

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Deploying commercial technologies quickly to keep up with the speed of threats

At the end of last year, I had the privilege of attending the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, CA. One of the topics that caught my attention was around the DoD’s new modernization strategy and how it would build off the upcoming National Defense Strategy to align DoD labs and innovation centers. According to Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), the goal is, in this time of constrained budgets, “…to have a very tight strategy that makes choices and makes sure we are taking all of our resources, all of our funding and aligning those.”

Basically, the end game is about deploying innovation more quickly to keep up with the speed at which threats are evolving. How do we take the rapidly advancing commercial technologies and transform them into much-needed capabilities for our warfighters? The cycle time – how long it takes from identification to fielding a solution for a need – takes way too long. To address this, Mercury has pioneered a next-generation business model for defense electronics. We leverage and build upon other high-technology firms substantial R&D investments. Mercury alone invests 13% of its revenue annually on internally funded innovation. We typically operate under firm fixed-price contracts with a major focus on efficiency and best value. Also, given the needs of the defense industry we emphasize ruggedization, security, trusted manufacturing and longevity of supply.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, take a read of our latest whitepaper, “A Next Generation Business Model: Bridging The Gap In Support Of The Defense Industry.

 

Mark Aslett, President & CEO

Lessons in RF Manufacturing from a Chicago Sausage Factory

People often say RF is black magic and it sometimes feels that way. I remember one evening I was called down to the production floor to help troubleshoot a technical problem found during swing shift. There was a product going through final test and it would only pass if held at a certain angle. At first I was doubtful that this was the case, but I held it in my hands, watched the performance on the network analyzer, rotated the unit, and saw the performance degrade. First we suspected the VNA cables, but a golden unit was solid regardless of its orientation. Then we performed the standard “shake while listening for something rattling test” but couldn’t hear anything—plus the repeatability seemed to suggest it wasn’t due to FOD. X-ray imaging didn’t yield any clues. Eventually, we had to send it off to de-lid, found nothing wrong, and after real-seal the performance was stable. The best theory we had was that the problem was due to flux improperly cleaned from a feedthrough.

It was this type of problem that drew me to RF engineering in college. Circuits that only worked when you placed a finger in a certain spot. The gain reduced by the microscope light. While it felt like black magic we all knew that in reality it was physics too complicated to be fully modeled. To this day, I still find these problems fun until all of a sudden a revenue commitment is missed.

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Data Security CSfC

Military-Grade SSDs Part 4: How Many Licks Does it Take to Get to the Center of a Tootsie Pop: One, Two…

What is the NSA hiding from us???  Hopefully all classified, secret and top secret data!

As part of their recent initiative to leverage commercial technologies in a sophisticated layered approach, the NSA is enabling an alternative to traditional Type 1 security solutions for the protection of data up to the Top Secret level. By adopting these agile commercial innovations, the Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) Program will save time and money for classified programs in all branches of government — from benign data centers to forward-deployed systems in harsh, unsecure environments. While I discuss the CSfC program in this blog post, the CSfC program’s website is the ultimate authority for up to date information.

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Swap Optimized RF

Smaller, Faster & More Affordable

During a Saturday afternoon of closet organizing, I found my first laptop from 2002—a Dell Inspiron 8200. I remember paying a premium—over $2,000 I think—for the Pentium 4 processor and the 256MB of RAM. It required 4.5A at 20V (90W) and weighed 8 pounds 3 ounces, which is just slightly less than the current weight of my two-week-old daughter. While organizing my closet, I was also listening to a podcast on my $250 phone that easily fits into my pocket and is far more powerful than the old laptop.

Both consumers and defense primes are demanding increased performance, in smaller packages, at lower prices. We have come to expect this level of improvement in each new smartphone generation. Addressing new emerging threats in the defense space requires a similar advancement. In this third post of my series on the intersection of the RF commercial and defense industries, we will examine the need for products that are smaller, more capable, and less expensive. Packing more circuitry into smaller areas is no easy task and to be successful, a company must embrace innovation and modular design—the subjects of my first and second posts in this series. This applies to designing a smart phone or a radar system.

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IMS 2018

IMS 2018 Re-Cap

It was a week of cheese steaks, US history, and ten thousand RF and microwave professionals. The International Microwave Symposium, or IMS, is an annual event that brings together the latest research from academia, hundreds of companies, and presentations from the most knowledgeable experts. This year we all gathered in downtown Philadelphia to learn what’s new in the industry.

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Military-Grade Solid State Drives

Military-Grade Secure Solid State Drives Part 3: Diamonds are Forever; Encryption Lasts Longer

Have you ever forgotten your password for your work laptop and had to go to your IT guy for help to reset it? Imagine if it was that easy when the data on the hard drive was classified or top secret.

Commercial SSDs use basic ATA password to access drive data. Military and government applications require higher security and therefore basic ATA passwords must be strengthened and sophisticated key management techniques employed.  Self-encrypting drives allow for up to 32 character passwords while Mercury drives 64 characters. One technique is to condition the password.  By this you can create a unique suffix to the end of a password that changes with each log-in, making the password impossible to hack.
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Modular RF Architectures

Let’s start with the traditional approach. After spending the morning helping production with some tuning on an amplifier, you finally start reading through the 120-page RFP, SCD, and SOW for the new up-converter. At the end of the source control drawing there is an oddly shaped mechanical outline. The control signal is routed through a hermetic mico-D connector with a custom defined pin-out. While not ideal, the locations of the RF ports are manageable. The eight-month timeline to CDR appears reasonable. However, six months in and it becomes clear that it will take longer and cost more than anticipated. The back and forth iterations with the engineer supporting the custom designed digital control board seem to go on forever. The engineer working on the output module determines that she will need a new heat-sink to keep the devices from becoming too hot. The mixer is generating a spur that wasn’t predicted and somewhere a gain stage is oscillating. The frustrated program manager has to add this project to the long list of development jobs with irate customers.

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