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Networthiness sets standards for DOD, AF networks

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The Air Force soon will have a relatively new term to add to its network operations lexicon: "Networthiness." Air Force Network Integration Center officials recently led efforts to develop the Department of Defense's networthiness concept, an operational assessment that goes well beyond information security to provide a holistic review of anything and everything that connects to a DOD network.

With the proposed DOD criteria in coordination, AFNIC officials now are leading implementation of networthiness for the Air Force, which will provide a singular, seamless framework of processes for introducing new systems and applications to the Air Force network, or AFNet. While the implementation will be largely transparent to the average network user, Airmen can expect enhanced rigor, performance and reliability of new capabilities introduced to the network.

"What Airmen can expect to see is future systems that get fielded without having major issues," said Gene Zuratynsky, chief of the AFNIC certification and accreditation policy branch. "They should see better performance and better quality."

As AFNIC specialists continue to help move the Air Force toward a single integrated network environment with a seamless flow of information among air, space and terrestrial layers, ensuring networthiness of new capabilities introduced into the single integrated network environment is crucial to mission assurance.

Currently, the primary focus for connecting systems, devices and applications to the AFNet is on security. Although areas that networthiness will examine -- interoperability, supportability, sustainability and usability -- are reviewed to some extent, there is no overall disciplined accounting or commonality among the services or even within the Air Force. In fact, the only official test a system needs to pass to gain access to the AFNet now is a security evaluation.

"We frequently see systems ready for fielding that may pass the security piece, but then they get connected and aren't interoperable with other systems (in the AFNet) or they're a bandwidth hog and multiple sites experience degraded performance," said Nancy Klein, AFNIC's networthiness lead and deputy director of information assurance.

According to Ms. Klein, without standards for defining the cyber "goodness," or networthiness, problems frequently arise because there is no way to quantify risk, guarantee interoperability with the network and ensure adequate support and sustainment functionality. Network defense also is challenging and performance issues often are handled after they are introduced to the network. The holistic networthiness review will help prevent such issues.

"There tend to be assumptions that if I'm developing a program or system for implementation someone else is going to support it for me," said Vince Williams, Air Force networthiness implementation action officer. "That's one of the things we're trying to rein in, (to) make sure that coordination has happened prior to that fielding."

The Air Force implementation is based on DOD assessment criteria developed by the Joint Networthiness High Performance Team, which was led by Ms. Klein and included representatives from the Defense Information Systems Agency and each of the service components.

"The purpose of the DOD-level effort was to come to agreement across the services and DISA so that when something needs approval to connect there are standard criteria that should be looked at," Ms. Klein said. Using the DOD approach of reviewing common criteria, AFNIC officials, in partnership with staffs at the Secretary of the Air Force Chief Information Officer Networks, Air Force Space Command, 24th Air Force and other functional communities, are reviewing existing Air Force processes and checks already in place. These processes for evaluating interoperability, security, sustainability and supportability will be brought together to achieve networthiness.

"Networthiness will bring all of these processes under one governance so one entity has the view of everything in order to make a true risk management decision based on each of the individual necessities," Mr. Zuratynsky said. He stressed that no new processes for reviewing systems and applications are being added; instead the assessments already taking place will be measured against the criteria set forth by the DOD.

The role of AFNIC officials under Air Force Space Command is to shape, provision, sustain and integrate AFNet, which 24th Air Force specialists then operate and defend. As such, the center will be a key player in networthiness assessments, ideally early in the system development stage.

"AFNIC's subject matter experts in each of the networthiness areas will work with the developer or community that's trying to acquire a product to make sure that wise decisions are made along the way," Ms. Klein said. "The idea is to have assessments done by experts in the various fields here at AFNIC very early in the process so developers don't lose any time in responding to users' needs. Our goal is to work within development timelines, not lengthen them."

The framework for determining networthiness is expected to be approved and ready for implementation in early 2011.