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Firewall secures battlefield communications

Military tanks, Humvees, helicopters to be outfitted with firewall for mobile IP network

By , Network World
October 19, 2007 03:48 PM ET

Network World - A security vendor that helps protect U.S. military communications has adapted its firewall for use in tanks, Humvees and helicopters to prevent enemies from intercepting IP transmissions on the battlefield.

Rapidly improving warfare technology is utilizing satellite imagery to determine the best tactical moves, and IP communications to relay instructions to soldiers, says Scott Montgomery, vice president of product management for Secure Computing. Protecting these communications is vital, as Israel learned last year when Hezbollah guerillas hacked into radio communications in southern Lebanon, allowing the guerillas to repel tank assaults.

“This kind of real-time battlefield data has unbelievable tactical value to military organizations,” Montgomery says. “If you’re directing military traffic and saying ‘shoot here’ and the enemy has access to those communications, they’re not going to be there when the rocket lands.”

Secure Computing teamed with General Dynamics Canada to create the MESHnet Firewall to protect mobile IP networks deployed on military vehicles. The product contains Secure Computing’s Sidewinder Firewall housed inside a conduction-cooled chassis built by General Dynamics.

The multimillion-dollar military contract won by the two companies about two and a half years ago is coming to fruition with field deployment tests scheduled for this month, to be followed by battlefield deployment in brigades, according to Montgomery.

Montgomery could not confirm that the U.S. military will be the one using this product, saying that it is being deployed by a “Western-friendly military.”

However, a full 20% of Secure Computing’s business comes from the U.S. government, including the military, Department of Defense and intelligence agencies, Montgomery says. The Sidewinder Firewall is already protecting IP networks used by the U.S. military in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, according to Montgomery.

In the case of MESHnet Firewall, the “end user” approached General Dynamics Canada and said “‘we need a firewall. The one we use in the data center is Sidewinder, therefore we want you to partner with Secure Computing,’” according to Montgomery.

General Dynamics officials declined to comment for this story.

MESHnet Firewall is a response to IP networks being extended from military bases to the actual vehicles on the battlefield, and could be used by individual Western militaries or United Nations coalition forces composed of various countries sharing battlefield and tactical data.

“The thing that makes it dangerous, is you have an IP network that is not only mobile but is an extension of your data center, with access to some of your core classified data in a hot, sandy bullet-ridden environment,” Montgomery says.

Adapting Sidewinder for this use was actually not that difficult, he says. Because Secure Computing contracts with the U.S. military, its off-the-shelf products meet pretty much all the firewalling, encryption and content inspection requirements of protecting battlefield communications, he says.

“We were already building to those standards with our commercial product,” he says.

Read more about security in Network World's Security section.

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