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What Content Management Systems Ring the Chimes of US Government Procurement Teams?

September 28, 2016

The answer to this question does not require a consultant in content management or, as the insiders term it, CMS. Navigate to Digital Gov’s run down. The list is, like many things about the US government, “unofficial.” You can look up an agency like the Economic Research Service and learn that the whiz kids at ERS rely upon Umbraco, an open source CMS which works with Microsoft software. It should. Umbraco lists Microsoft as a customer. What this says about SharePoint I will leave to you, gentle reader.

There are some interesting systems in use; for example:

  • EpiServer from former Microsoft Sweden folks
  • DotNetNuke for the Department of Defense. The name of the product may have resonated with someone at the DoD.
  • RedDot, a German software product which is now an OpenText property
  • WebZerve, product of xpdient Inc.
  • InMagic Presto, which I thought was a law firm centric system. InMagic is now owned by a Canadian firm.

The list is a sure fire guide for those who want to sell CMS consulting services to government agencies. Any notion of standardization or buying US software seems to be out of fashion.

Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2016

Snowden Revelations: Many Clicks, Few Will Access Documents

September 27, 2016

I read “This Is Everything Edward Snowden Revealed in Just One Year of Unprecedented Top-Secret Leaks.” I love “everything” articles. If you follow the Snowden documents, you know that these are scattered across different sites. Most of the write ups referencing the documents point to mini versions of the slides. I had high hopes that this write up would create a list of direct links to downloadable PDFs. No such luck. My conclusion about the article is that it does little to make the Snowden documents more readily available. Nevertheless, I love writes ups with the word “everything” in their title. Easy to say. Either too difficult, too time consuming, or to risky to do.

Stephen E Arnold, September 27, 2016

Palantir: On the Radar of the Dept of Labor. Yes, Labor

September 27, 2016

I received an email from a friend who works in Washington. He wanted me to read “Palantir Alleged to Have Discriminated against Asian Job Seekers.” I read the article. The main point is that the US Department of Labor

sued data miner Palantir for discriminating against Asian job applicants for software engineering positions, the government…

Palantir is a government contractor. Government contractors have to follow the “rules of the road” where government contracts are concerned. Discrimination, like excessive profits on government work, is not a plus when seeking government contracts.

What is interesting to me is the timeline. Palantir filed suit against the US Army in June 2016. Now nine weeks the Department of Labor is finding fault with the high profile Palantir.

I noted this statement in the article cited above:

If Palantir doesn’t end the practice, the OFCCP will request the cancellation of the company’s contracts, as well as bar it from getting federal contracts in the future.

I no longer work in Washington. Heck, I no longer work. I do recall my experiences, however. I wonder if Palantir may find itself on the radar of the IRS and the Securities & Exchange Commission? What happens if the Office of Personnel Management reviews certain clearances?

I know that many events occur in Washington circles which are just coincidences. Sheer chance. I assume it is possible that Event A could be a trigger for Event B. I do not know. I have to do more thinking.

I do know from my own experiences that lighting up the radar of certain government institutions with enforcement authority can add considerable friction to the normal course of business in Washington.

The author of the article heard radar pings, and I assume Palantir might be able to pick them up as well. Foe me, this ping from the Department of Labor’s radar is like the gentle strumming of acoustic guitar. Other US enforcement agencies’ pings make an amped up Metallica guitar seem subdued. Ah, the legal Pathétique.

Stephen E Arnold. September 27, 2016

US Government: Computer Infrastructure

September 26, 2016

Curious about the cost of maintaining a computer infrastructures. Companies may know how much is spent to maintain the plumbing, but those numbers are usually buried in accounting-speak within the company. Details rarely emerge.

Here’s a useful chart about how much spending for information technology goes to maintain the old stuff and the status quo versus how much goes to the nifty new technology:

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The important line is the solid blue one. Notice that the US Federal government spent $0.68 cents of every IT dollar on operations and maintenance in 2010. Jump to the 2017 estimate. Notice that the status quo is likely to consume $0.77 cents of every IT dollar.

Progress? If you want to dig into the information behind this chart, you can find the report GAO 677454 by running queries on the Alphabet Google system m. The title of the report is “Information Technology. Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems.” Don’t bother trying the search box on the GAO.org Web site. The document is not in the index.

If you are not too keen on running old school mobile queries or talking to your nifty voice enabled search system, you can find the document at this link.

I want to point out that Palantir Technologies may see these types of data as proof that the US government needs to approach information technology in a different manner.

Stephen E Arnold, September 26, 2016

Bam! Pow! Zap! Palantir Steps Up Fight with US Army

September 25, 2016

Many moons ago I worked at that fun loving outfit Booz, Allen & Hamilton. I recall one Master of the Universe telling me, “Keep the client happy.” Today an alternative approach has emerged. I term it “Fight with the client.” I assume the tactic works really well.

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I read “Palantir Claims Army Misled to Keep It Out of DCGS-A Program.” As I understand the Mixed Martial Arts cage match, the US Army wants to build its own software system. Like many ideas emerging from Washington, DC, the system strikes me as complex and expensive. The program’s funding stretches back a decade. My hunch is that the software system will eventually knit together the digital information required by the US Army to complete its missions. Like many other US government programs, there are numerous vendors involved. Many of these are essentially focused on meeting the needs of the US government.

Palantir Technologies is a Sillycon Valley construct. The company poked its beak though a silicon shell in 2003 and opened for “real” business in 2004. That makes the company 12 years old. Like many disruptive unicorns, Palantir appears to be convinced that its Gotham system can do what the US Army wants done. The Shire and its Hobbits are girding for battle. What are the odds that a high technology company can mount its unicorns and charge into battle and win?

Image result for comic book pow zap

The Palantirians’ reasoning is, by Sillycon Valley standards, logical. Google, by way of comparison, believes that it can solve death and compete with AT&T in high speed fiber. Google may demonstrate that the Sillycon Valley way is more than selling ads, but for now, Google is not gaining traction in some of its endeavors. Palantir wants to activate its four wheel drive and power the US Army to digital nirvana.

The Defense News’s write up is a 1,200 word explanation of Palantir’s locker room planning. I noted this passage:

The Palo Alto-based company has argued the way the Army wrote its requirements in a request for proposals to industry would shut out Silicon Valley companies that provide commercially available products. The company contended that the Army’s plan to award just one contract to a lead systems integrator means commercially available solutions would have to be excluded.
Palantir is seeking to show the court that its data-management product — Palantir Gotham Platform — does exactly what DCGS-A is trying to do and comes at a much lower cost.

I like the idea of demonstrating the capabilities of Gotham to legal eagles. I know that lawyers are among the most technologically sophisticated professionals in the world. In addition, most lawyers are really skilled at technical problem solving and can work math puzzles while waiting for a Teavana Shaken Iced Tea.

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The article also references “a chain of emails.” Yep, emails can be an interesting component of a cage match. With some Palantir proprietary information apparently surfacing in Buzzfeed, perhaps more emails will be forthcoming.

I have formulated three hypotheses about this tussle with the US Army:

  1. Palantir Technologies is not making progress with Gotham because of the downstream consequences of the i2 Analyst’s Notebook legal matter. The i2 product is owned by IBM, and IBM is a potentially important vendor to the US Army. IBM also has some chums in other big outfits working on the DCGS project. Palantir wants to be live in the big dogs’ kennel, but no go.
  2. Palantir’s revenue may need the DCGS contracts to make up for sales challenges in other market sectors. Warfighting and related security jobs can more predictable than selling a one off to a hospital chain in Tennessee.
  3. Palantir’s perception of Washington may be somewhat negative. Sillycon Valley companies “know” that their “solutions” are the “logical” ones. When Sillycon Valley logic confronts the reality of government contracting, sparks may become visible.

For me, I think the Booz, Allen & Hamilton truism may be on target. Does one keep a customer happy by fighting a public battle designed to prove the “logic” of the Sillycon Valley way?

I don’t think most of the DCGS contractors are lining up to mud wrestle the US Army. I would enjoy watching how legal eagles react to the Gotham wheel menu and learning how long it takes for a savvy lawyer to move discovery content into the Gotham system.

My seeing stone shows an messy five round battle and a lot of clean up and medical treatment after the fight.

Stephen E Arnold, September 25, 2016

A Congressman Seems to Support Palantir Gotham for US Army Personnel

September 23, 2016

I read “Commentary: The US Army Should Rethink Its Approach to DCGS.” The write up is interesting because it helped me understand the relationships which exist between an elected official (Congressman Duncan Hunter, Republican from California) and a commercial enterprise (Palantir Technologies). Briefly: The Congressman believes the US Army should become more welcoming to Palantir Technologies’ Gotham system.

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A representation of the Department of Defense’s integrated defense acquisition, technology, and life cycle management system.

The write up points out that the US Army is pretty good with tangible stuff: Trucks, weapons, and tanks. The US Army, however, is not as adept with the bits and the bytes. As a result, the US Army’s home brew Distributed Common Ground System is not sufficiently agile to keep pace with the real world. DCGS has consumed about $4 billion and is the product of what I call the “traditional government procurement.”

The Congressman (a former Marine) wants to US Army to embrace Palantir Gotham in order to provide a better, faster, and cheaper system for integrating different types of information and getting actionable intelligence.

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US Marine Captain Duncan Hunter before becoming a Congressman. Captain Hunter served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Captain Hunter was promoted to major in 2012.

The write up informed me:

Congress, soldiers and the public were consistently misinformed and the high degree of dysfunction within the Army was allowed to continue for too long. At least now there is verification—through Army admittance—of the true dysfunction within the program.

Palantir filed a complaint which was promptly sealed. The Silicon Valley company appears to be on a path to sue the US Army because Palantir is not the preferred way to integrate information and provide actionable intelligence to US Army personnel.

The Congressman criticizes a series of procedures I learned to love when I worked in some of the large government entities. He wrote:

he Army and the rest of government should take note of the fact that the military acquisition system is incapable of conforming to the lightening pace and development targets that are necessary for software. This should be an important lesson learned and cause the Army—especially in light of repeated misleading statements and falsehoods—to rethink its entire approach on DCGS and how it incorporates software for the Army of the future.

The call to action in the write up surprised me:

The Army has quality leaders in Milley and Fanning, who finally understand the problem. Now the Army needs a software acquisition system and strategy to match.

My hunch is that some champions of Palantir Gotham were surprised too. I expected the Congressman to make more direct statements about Palantir Gotham and the problems the Gotham system might solve.

After reading the write up, I jotted down these observations:

  • The DCGS system has a number of large defense contractors performing the work. One of them is IBM. IBM bought i2 Group. Before the deal with IBM, i2 sued Palantir Technologies, alleging that Palantir sought to obtain some closely held information about Analyst’s Notebook. The case was settled out of court. My hunch is that some folks at IBM have tucked this Palantir-i2 dust up away and reference it when questions about seamless integration of Gotham and Analyst’s Notebook arise.
  • Palantir, like other search and content processing vendors, needs large engagements. The millions, if not billions, associated with DCGS would provide Palantir with cash and a high profile engagement. A DCGS deal would possibly facilitate sales of Gotham to other countries’ law enforcement and intelligence units.
  • The complaint may evolve into actual litigation. Because the functions of Gotham are often used for classified activities, the buzz might allow high-value information to leak into the popular press. Companies like Centrifuge Systems, Ikanow, Zoomdata, and others would benefit from a more open discussion of the issues related to the functioning of DCGS and Gotham. From Palantir’s point of view, this type of information in a trade publication would not be a positive. For competitors, the information could be a gold mine filled with high value nuggets.

Net net: The Congressman makes excellent points about the flaws in the US Army procurement system. I was disappointed that a reference to the F 35 was not included. From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, the F 35 program is a more spectacular display of procurement goofs.

More to come. That’s not a good thing. A fully functioning system would deliver hardware and software on time and on budget. If you believe in unicorns, you will like me have faith in the government bureaucracy.

Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2016

Geoparsing Is More Magical Than We Think

September 23, 2016

The term geoparsing sounds like it has something to do with cartography, but according to Directions Magazine in the article, “Geoparsing Maps The Future Of Text Documents” it is more like an alchemical spell.  Geoparsing refers to when text documents into a geospatial database that allows entity extraction and disambiguation (aka is geotagging).  It relies on natural language processing and is generally used to analyze text document collections.

While it might appear that geoparsing is magical, it actually is a complex technological process that relies on data to put information into context.  Places often have the same name, so disambiguation would have difficulty inputting the correct tags.  Geoparsing has important applications, such as:

Military users will not only want to exploit automatically geoparsed documents, they will require a capability to efficiently edit the results to certify that the place names in the document are all geotagged, and geotagged correctly. Just as cartographers review and validate map content prior to publication, geospatial analysts will review and validate geotagged text documents. Place checking, like spell checking, allows users to quickly and easily edit the content of their documents.

The article acts as a promo piece for the GeoDoc application, however, it does delve into the details into how geoparsing works and its benefits.

Whitney Grace, September 23, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

Text and Data Analysis: Cyber Profiling for Everyone

September 22, 2016

Cyber security experts are taking a leaf out of The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and are profiling cyber criminals. However, the parameter here used for profiling is just one – language.

In an article titled #CloudSec2016: Cybercrime Underground by Geography that appeared in the Info Security magazine, the author says that –

Rather than categorize by country, McArdle categorized “the big three cybercrime undergrounds” by language. He considers Russian-speaking countries; English-speaking countries; and China, to be the most notable.

Robert McArdle of Trend Micro who has been quoted in the article states that –

The Russian – and I refer to all Russian-speaking countries, including the Ukraine – cybercrime underground is the oldest and most mature. They’re cybercrime pioneers, with most threats starting in Russia and then moving elsewhere.

In the US, three cyber-attacks occur every minute, 170 every hour and 1.5 million every year. Total loss suffered due to such cybercrimes is around $400 billion per year, a staggering figure.

However, here in rural Kentucky we try not to generalize; for example, pundits who suggest that cyber-crimes emanate from Russia or Russian speaking countries. The cyber underground is very active in US too where teens have been arrested for breaking into Federal agencies’ servers.

Unlike conventional crimes, forensic profiling has never been attempted on cyber-criminals. We think cyber profiling is a freight train rolling down high speed rails.

Vishal Ingole, September 22, 2016

Is the UK Tolling the App Death Knell for Government Services?

September 14, 2016

The article titled Why Britain Banned Mobile Apps on GovInsider introduces Ben Terret and the innovative UK Government Digital Service program, the first of its kind in the world. Terret spearheaded a strict “no apps” policy in favor of websites while emphasizing efficiency, clarity, cost savings, and relevance of the information. This all adds up to creating a simple and streamlined experience for UK citizens. Terret explains why this approach is superior in an app-crazed world,

Apps are “very expensive to produce, and they’re very very expensive to maintain because you have to keep updating them when there are software changes,” Terrett says. “I would say if you times that by 300, you’re suddenly talking about a huge team people and a ton of money to maintain that ecosystem”…Sites can adapt to any screen size, work on all devices, and are open to everyone to use regardless of their device.

So what do these websites look like? They are clean, simple, and operated under the assumption that “Google is the homepage.” Terrett measures the success of a given digital services by monitoring how many users complete a transaction, or how many continued to search for additional information, documents, or services. Terrett’s argument against apps is a convincing one, especially based on the issue of cutting expenses. Whether this argument translates into the private sector is another question.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 14, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

Is a New Policing Group Needed to Deal with Online Cyber Terrorism?

September 11, 2016

In June 2015, Yahoo News had reported breach of election systems of Illinois an Arizona for possibly stealing the data. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the perpetrators may have been probably were Russian state-sponsored hackers, an easy scapegoat in the run up to the US elections. The attack method allegedly was a Denial of Service (DoS) strategy. But how do hackers get access to network of computers and servers and still remain anonymous?

A report published by ABC Net “Thousands of Australian Computer Log Ins Up for Sale on Dark Web” states that

Computers from a federal research network, a peak sporting body, a school and a local council are among tens of thousands of machines which have been hacked and had their login details put up for sale in a Dark Web marketplace.

And if you think that it would cost hundreds of thousands of Bitcoins on Dark Web to control these hacked network of systems, you are in for a shock. Kaspersky, the anti virus centric security firm, which detected the hack says that

Computers like these can be rented by cyber criminals and used to launch attacks against others for as little as $6.

No wonder cyber terrorists , – whether state sponsored or rogue – are able to launch large scale attacks on federal agencies and American corporations with minimal risk and cost. It is evident from the fact that data breaches are becoming increasingly common. The latest victim being DropBox wherein access credentials of 68 million users were leaked.

The key question here is, “Is an international coordinated agency needed to police cyber crime?” Existing organizations seem to be less and less able to deal with breaches. The rallying cry may once again be, “Let’s create more bureaucracy.”

Vishal Ingole, September 11, 2016

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