How Open Source Helps ICITE Innovation

This blog post is an excerpt from our recent report done in partnership with Red Hat, Open Standards & Open Collaboration: Enabling Faster Application Delivery in the Intelligence Community with DevOps. To download the full report, head here.

At its core, open standards and open source software are about flexibility, portability, integration and innovation. Relatedly, the biggest digital transformation effort to hit the U.S. intelligence community is under way: the Intelligence Community (IC) Information Technology Enterprise, or ICITE initiative, which aims to create a common IT workshop for all 16 IC agencies.

Ultimately, ICITE is all about innovation, which explains why open standards and open-source solutions are fundamentally embedded into the ICITE vision and architecture. OpenShift Container Platform is prevalent in the IC. This allows application portability across agencies instead of silos. And Red Hat open source solutions were among the first to be included on the ICITE blanket purchase agreement in 2004.

Predicting a continuing imperative to innovate, Do predicted intelligence agencies will increasingly be compelled to move away from proprietary solutions. “If you make everybody choose a proprietary solution, you’re always going to be beholden to the vendor of a particular software package,” Do said. “There’s a lot of innovation that can occur in communities, and scoping the influence of that innovation to a single software vendor limits who can contribute good ideas and who can enable creative solutions. When we look at open source within the IT community, it’s the open standards that enable quicker innovation, more agility, more creative solutions, and ultimately, who can build better applications.”

One salient example of how the IC values and uses open- standard, open-source technology is Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux), a series of security modifications to the popular Linux operating system (OS) kernel. SELinux was developed and offered to the open source community by the National Security Agency in conjunction with Red Hat in 2000. SELinux enables the Linux OS — a popular operating system for physical and virtual servers, containers and Android smartphones — to support strict security access controls, including the Defense Department’s mandatory access controls. Built in collaboration between Red Hat, the NSA, and large number of members from the open source community, SELinux addresses the hard problem of implementing policy enforcement for mandatory access controls.

The development of SELinux technology illustrates how powerful the combination of open standards and open source software can be in driving continuous innovation. “Red Hat is the steward to lead the community,” Do said. “SELinux was a collaborative effort with the intelligence community that has helped industry.”

The application of SELinux to container technology was an unintended consequence of the development work that went into SELinux at the time, but has exemplified the value of applying technology in new and innovative ways.

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