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CSfC Solutions for Military Communications Equipment

Minute Read

For decades, Type 1 has been the National Security Agency’s most prized cybersecurity designation, describing technology that can effectively keep the nation’s most classified information under lock and key.

As such, it has historically been the primary vehicle for building military communications equipment.

Recent years, however, have seen the growth of NSA’s Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) program, which offers an alternative to Type 1 products for use in military communications.

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As you evaluate retrofitting or recertifying your existing military communications equipment, or are building something for the first time, it may be a good time to consider making the switch to CSfC.

Some of the benefits of using a CSfC solution include:

  • Full end-to-end solutions: Leveraging multiple vendors and approved components to build your final solution allows you to meet the unique requirements of your project and be certain that the entire end-to-end solution is secure.
  • Based on the highest standards: All of the components that are CSfC approved leverage open, non-proprietary interoperability and security standards that are driven and monitored by NSA and its team of engineers, threat analysts and cyber experts.
  • No need for specialized training: Using Type 1 products requires advanced knowledge that you can’t develop overnight. CSfC, on the other hand, requires only knowledge of commercial technologies that already make up standard cybersecurity architectures, so in most cases, your team doesn’t have to go through special training to use them.
  • The total cost of ownership (TCO): The upfront cost of CSfC is generally higher when compared with Type 1 solutions. But after several years, the TCO of CSfC decreases significantly, to the point where it becomes the much less expensive solution.
  • Faster to start: Although it depends somewhat on the organization, it’s usually easier to get up and running quickly with a CSfC solution. This will only become truer as the adoption of the CSfC program increases. Type 1 can sometimes be quicker because it’s a known quantity for the “old guard” who have been in the field for decades, but this should change with greater awareness of CSfC.
  • Higher technical flexibility: If you have limited options for backhaul on your Internet connection, CSfC is often the wiser choice as it enables you to use any common type of Internet connection, from satellite to 4G. Type 1, on the other hand, often limits you to certain satellite networks or dedicated Internet connections such as MPLS links, which can be very expensive.
  • Less risk of ownership: Using CSfC products involves a lower risk of ownership due to the less stringent security requirements and the use of commercial hardware. For example, there’s no need to place all of the devices in a secure safe watched by guards 24/7, as is required with a Type 1 solution. This also means that CSfC is good for situations that are inherently higher-risk.
  • Less concern for equipment loss: There are very strict requirements in place for how to dispose of Type 1 equipment for fear of it falling into the wrong hands. CSfC equipment does not pose the same risk, so if there is concern of equipment being lost or left in enemy territory, it is a much more attractive option.

To help you evaluate options as you consider your unique military communications equipment design, we’ve provided some examples of how we’ve helped build CSfC solutions for military communications. 

Executive military communication equipment

Executive communications kits are commonplace within the Department of Defense (DoD) and consist of on-demand, secure command and control network communications meant to keep key leaders connected via voice, video, email and data from anywhere in the world.

Communications kits generally support voice calls, built-in cellular and WiFi transport options, a USB port for laptop or other device and an integrated power supply. Some kits are designed and approved to send sensitive, unclassified information, whereas others may transport classified data or both classified and unclassified data.

The most important requirements for any executive communications kits are:

  • The ability to send and receive highly sensitive, classified communications via secure methods.
  • Due to the size of comms kits, it is important that the solution for securing data transmission have a small form factor.
  • The ability to communicate in highly mobile situations.
  • Minimal set-up time, as these kits are often needed in immediate or emergency situations.
  • The ability to send and receive communications in real-time.

In this particular case, we worked with the client to build a suitcase which had all of the equipment needed for their work combined with a CSfC Approved GoSilent Cube for secure transmission of that data.

Secure comms kits can contain built-in tech solutions such as:

  • Firewalls
  • VPNs
  • Laptops
  • Satellite link
  • 4G
  • Wifi hotspot
  • Backhaul
  • Router

This solution provided agency officials working in the field with secure, real-time communications access to their home base staff as well as to DoD colleagues operating in other parts of the world. 

An executive communications kit, built from CSfC Approved components, creates a secure mobile workspace that is flexible enough to be set-up and taken down instantly. In addition, it is easy to scale this cost-effective solution to any number of remote decision makers or deployed teams.

Tactical military radio communications systems

Another common CSfC use case in military communications is using CSfC components to increase security of existing communications methods.

You will often see things like military radio communication systems or military tactical communications systems that need to be made more secure. This can be done quite easily just by adding an additional layer of encryption. 

The CSfC Mobile Access Capability Package describes the need to protect classified data using multiple encrypted tunnels to protect data using a specified set of encryption protocols. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to completely rearchitect your solution. Often simply adding something like Attila’s GoSilent cube on top of radio communications systems already in use offers all the protection needed.

Using two nested, independent encryption tunnels helps to protect the confidentiality and integrity of data as it moves through an untrusted network, and allows you to use the existing communications methods you already have.

Temporary secure operations center (SOC)

CSfC solutions excel when it comes to any type of remote work or any situation where you need to set up a temporary SOC. In most cases, temporary SOCs are required in times of emergency and thus need to be highly mobile and easy to set up quickly.

Often, this involves law enforcement personnel hopping on a plane with a few suitcases containing their equipment and setting up an onsite SOC wherever it is needed for their mission.

If this is starting to sound familiar, it’s because you have already read most of these requirements above,  in the “Executive Military Communication Equipment” section. Overall, Temporary SOC deployments have all of the same requirements and most of the same components as executive communications kits.

The major differences would be that a Temporary SOC would involve multiple comms kits, and may contain some slightly larger components in certain cases.

Drones or unmanned systems

This particular application addresses the methods by which military drones or unmanned systems communicate information back to the teams using them.

In this particular case, a CSfC solution is far more attractive than a Type 1 solution. Drones or unmanned systems can potentially be shot down and lost to the enemy — in which case, you wouldn’t want Type 1 equipment falling into the wrong hands.

In this case, you want a small form factor and lightweight method for securely communicating data back to military teams using the unmanned systems that prevents that intelligence from falling into the wrong hands.

Satellite or wireless military communications

Another common case we see is the application of satellite communication or 4G wireless communication for military purposes.

Both of these methods for transmitting data are notoriously insecure on their own, but are both highly convenient and accessible almost anywhere in the world. We’ve helped build plenty of CSfC solutions that allow the secure use of these communication methods for military applications.

Using Type 1 equipment typically limits you to certain satellite networks or dedicated Internet connections such as MPLS links, which can be very expensive and are not highly mobile.

CSfC approved components like the GoSilent Cube can open up your options to allow for connections over satellite or wireless networks.

Final thoughts

If you are looking to retrofit, or build an entirely new solution, for military communications, exploring CSfC solutions may open up a world of new possibilities you haven’t considered in the past.

You can use our complete guide as you dive into CSfC solutions, which is built to help individuals looking to build a CSfC approved solution. It provides guidance on how to use the resources available, navigate the CSfC process, and what to expect from CSfC component vendors.

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