Moves Afoot for Linux Certification

Oracle, IBM look to get federal government certification for Linux solutions.

Oracle Corp. and IBM are jostling for a federal stamp of approval on Linux, with both companies announcing that they will submit their respective software to certification processes.

Oracle, of Redwood Shores, Calif., on Thursday will announce that it is submitting Red Hat Inc.s Linux Advanced Server for a Common Criteria (ISO 15408) evaluation at EAL2(Evaluation Assurance Level 2), according to Mary Ann Davidson, Oracles chief security officer.

For its part, IBM on Wednesday announced that it will work with the Linux community to enter the Common Criteria certification process for the Linux operating system early this year and will proceed with a progressive plan for certifying Linux at increasing security levels through this year and 2004.

The Common Criteria is an independently tested set of standards used by organizations – the Federal government included – to evaluate the security and assurance levels of technology products. For Linux, securing the Common Criteria certification means that it provides a secure operating system for government applications, according to Jon Hall, president and executive director of Linux International.

Both government computer experts and open source experts said the moves are "huge." Tony Stanco, associate director of Open Source and eGovernment at George Washington Universitys Cyber Security Policy and Research Institute, in Washington, pointed to a study that showed open source proliferates in the Department of Defense. "They found its everywhere, and the security of critical systems depends in a large part on open source," Stanco said.

In addition, there are looming deadlines that make it incumbent upon vendors to get software evaluated and certified. Stanco called Oracles move a "great first step" toward dealing with a July 1 deadline, when federal military agencies wont be able to purchase systems that arent NIAP (National Information Assurance Partnership) evaluated.

"The government is very happy that theyre doing this," Stanco said. "Theyve been waiting for as much product to be evaluated as possible."

The procurement program came into play in July 2002, but a grace period followed wherein the federal government didnt use procurement powers to punish and award, although thats "clearly where theyre going to go" to get people into the system, Stanco said. "[The government] is very serious about making this a success," he said. "It took companies a long time to understand how serious they were."

Jim Willis, director of e-government for the Rhode Island Department of State and user of myriad open source technologies, including Red Hat Linux and the MySQL database, concurred that the issue was "huge," although it only affects federal agencies.

"A lot of agencies arent allowed to use software unless its certified," Willis said. "The problem with open source is that much of it was waiting to be certified. With proprietary software, it behooves vendors to pay to have it certified, so the government can use it. The problem with open source is, whos going to pay to have it certified? Which open source vendors are going to step up to the plate, to foot the bill? It looked like Oracle stepped up to the plate."

Oracles Davidson said that users in the government market have long requested higher assurance in products. As of July 2002, when NSTISSP (National Security Telecommunications Information Systems Security Policy) No. 11—the actual procurement policy—went into effect, Oracle knew the government was tired of waiting.