USAF IT standardization will boost protection

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The U.S. Air Force has said it will improve security and save millions by consolidating 38 contracts for Microsoft software and nine support contracts across its units into two enterprise-wide agreements.

The consolidation will result in a small number of standard configurations that enforce strict security policies for all Microsoft desktop and server software, officials said.

"The major driver for us was really security," said Air Force CIO John Gilligan, explaining that a highly reliable network is essential for the service in a time of "net-centric warfare."

Currently, the Air Force has thousands of different software configurations and patching is a painstaking and time-consuming process which involves a lot of manual work, including testing patches for compatibility.

"We were spending more money patching and fixing than buying software," he said.

About once a week, the service experiences an automated cyber attack that disrupts an unpatched system, he added.

Having standard configurations will allow the Air Force to quickly and automatically push out patches, said Gilligan. The Air Force is working with Microsoft to develop the configurations using benchmarks from the Center for Internet Security. They will be designed to meet specific Air Force needs and all of the service's 525,000 personnel will be required to use them.

The contract consolidation is expected to save the service more than $100 million over six years.

Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, praised the Air Force initiative and said it sets a precedent that other organizations will be eager to follow.

"It demonstrates precisely how organizations can put the appropriate burden of security back on the vendors, where there are massive economies of scale," he said.

"If you don't do this, the alternative is every single site that buys the stuff has to do exactly the same thing. Recreate the wheel every time and the costs are huge."

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