Apple Force: Macs in National Security By: Barbara Mende Rating:
While it is true that Macs are revered in music, movie production and other arts communities, many people do not know that Apple also has a long and active tradition in defense and security that goes back at least to 1989. Back then, Apple won a contract to supply a minimum of 10,000 Macintosh IIx’s configured for Unix plus a NASA contract for 2,500 Macs for the Johnson Space Center in Houston. While Apple doesn’t publicize it as widely as it does its connection with Bono, Apple products have figured prominently in protecting our homeland in many key U.S security institutions:
EchoStorm: Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance Information Services (ISRIS) echostorm.net
EchoStorm, founded in 2003, does its share of business with Hollywood. But it has also developed a secure information delivery system for the Department of Defense that allows field commanders access to real-time intelligence, even if they have limited bandwidth and only intermittent connectivity. The ISRIS network delivers information to them securely in near-real time. It uses Xserve servers G5, Xserve RAID, and QuickTime to convert raw video sensor data to MPEG format that can be sent over slower connections. EchoStorm president Jason Barton says that while ISRIS Video is a complicated system, «with Apple products, we were able to make the content delivery and interface very simple for the end user.»
EchoStorm has also recently developed Convene Analyst Toolkit. This software solution allows multiple users to analyze and view a vast archives of videos from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Participants can mark-up and extract intelligence from recorded and live media. Watch a six-minute video demonstration located on the right.
Multiple Advanced Computers for Hypersonics (MACH5) www.colsa.com
The goals of MACH5 are to model hypersonic flight conditions for missiles and experimental scramjet and to improve the design of intercept missiles. The COLSA Corporation developed it for the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). It runs on a super-cluster of over 1,500 Xserve servers containing the Quad-Core Intel Xeon «Nehalem» processor. According to COLSA senior scientist Dr. John Medeiros, the cluster «gives us more than 60 times the computational power of our current production machine.» Work that had taken two months can now be completed in a day.
Modeling asteroids for NASA www.riacs.edu
The Bayesian Vision group of the Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS) supports NASA in such projects as reconstructing 3D surface images from multiple images, for robotics as well as planetary science applications. For example, it has modeled an asteroid from images combined with laser-altimetry data from the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission. RIACS research scientist Dr. Frank Kuehnel explains, «Navigating in complex environments is still very difficult for robots – it has to do by computer what humans do naturally» in processing large quantities of data to make intelligent decisions. Until Mac OS X arrived, simple tasks like burning CDs and transferring files to external drives were sometimes difficult. OS X allowed the group to continue working on Unix in a user-friendly environment.
United States Army Website www.army.mil.com
The Army’s website is hosted on a Mac OS server running Xserve. It is a busy site: it accesses information from 60 different Army sources for 6,000,000 visitors every month. The site attracts so many hackers that it has been the subject of hacking contests, so security is a top priority.
In fact, Mac-based hosting began in 1999 after a teenager replaced the home page with a message from a hacker group. The Army’s Web site contractor, evaluating alternative means of changing the server from Windows NT to make sure it could never happen again, recommended keeping the Mac platform. Since that time, the attacks have continued but not succeeded, and uptime in 2009 was running at 99.995 percent. The Army has added several more servers for additional tasks. Army site manager Bill Cerniuk says, «When we moved to a Mac OS-based system, we were able to focus less of our energy on security.»
The Texas Air National Guard www.tx.ang.af.mil
The Guard has greatly expanded its OS X installations, but it did not come easily. The upgrade of the Guard’s computer systems to OS X and Apple training in the new OS coincided with the call to Iraq. After the classroom and equipment were set up, all space on base was preempted for work involving the deployment. The class proceeded off base. «We had to rush back to base every day to attend to real-world communications support missions while our Wing deployed over 200 people to the war, and while we launched a 24/7 communications support center,» reports Major Keil Hubert, commander of the Guard’s 136th Communications Flight. It worked. Major Hubert says that his people have since launched several new initiatives using OS X.
If you know of other Apple defense contributions, please write to MacDirectory.