Is demand for Tempest equipment turning around?

By John Rhea

WASHINGTON - Demand for Tempest secure communications and computer equipment, which has been in free fall for the past decade, may be poised for a turnaround.

Representatives of the dwindling band of Tempest suppliers who attended last month`s TechNet conference sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association (AFCEA) say they are pinning their hopes for renewed interest in Tempest on growing concern over new information warfare threats to civil networks in the post-Cold War climate.

Tempest refers to special metal shielding designed to contain stray electronic emissions from computers, displays, communications devices, and other electronic equipment. The central reason for Tempest is security. Sophisticated eavesdroppers using special equipment sometimes can steal computer data by intercepting their electronic emissions.

Government demand among NATO countries for Tempest-qualified hardware remains flat. The market, which peaked at about $200 million annually, has shrunk to $54 million, say officials at the dominant supplier, Wang Laboratories of Tewksbury, Mass. Half of that represents the value of the OEM equipment to be enhanced to Tempest standards established by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Wang supplies an estimated $30 million of all Tempest-qualified equipment, followed by four domestic suppliers: Cycomm Secure Solutions (formerly XL Computing) of Sebastian, Fla.; Grid Systems of Westlake, Texas; Raven Systems of San Marcos, Calif.; and Secure Systems Group (SSG) of Wilmington, Mass. Three additional suppliers are located overseas: Siemens in Germany, Thomson in France, and OSPL in England. Once there were 135 suppliers worldwide.

Full-Tempest specifications are only rarely required since Defense Department leaders quit Tempest-protecting all their sensitive equipment, and instead started conducting risk analyses on a case-by-case basis to determine which equipment required the additional security.

Yet there are still opportunities for intermediate levels of security, says Jules Rutstein, vice president for business development at Cycomm. Executives at his company are aiming at legal and financial applications and are offering Tempest versions of the Compaq DeskPro computer and Hewlett-Packard laser jet printer.

As a rule of thumb, a full- Tempest unit runs about twice the price of its commercial equivalent, notes Jennifer Rick, senior vice president and general manager at SSG. The difference is in the filters and sheet metal, she explains. The value added is the engineering and testing to meet NSA specifications.

The intermediate step is known as the Zone level of Tempest. This step, released in 1990 with backing from the NSA, costs halfway between the commercial grade and full Level 1 Tempest, Rutstein estimates. This is where the Tempest suppliers will be targeting the commercial markets using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer and communications equipment. Yet even those prices are likely to be prohibitive for all but the most sophisticated users.

Marketers at Ricoh Corp. of West Caldwell, N.J., for example, sell their full-Tempest secure laser facsimile unit for about $7,500, explains Irv Sentz, manager of fax sales in the company`s Alexandria, Va., office. The company is the OEM for Tempest versions based on modifications by Raven Systems.

Notebook computers with Pentium microprocessors as fast as 200 MHz cost $7,000 to $9,000 - as much as $12,000 for ruggedized versions - says Rick at SSG. Tempest notebooks also weigh a lot more than their commercial-grade counterparts because of the Tempest shielding, she adds. Add Tempest shielding to a 20-pound desktop computer, and the new system can weigh as much as 75 pounds.

James Johnson, manager of customer accounts in SSG`s Sterling, Va., office, says Tempest demand among NATO and other allied countries is now exceeding the U.S. market as these countries upgrade the equipment in their embassies and other diplomatic data networks.

As the OEM portions of Tempest systems such as personal computers, peripherals, and switches, continue to decline in price along with other COTS equipment, the Tempest increment represents a constant factor immune to cost reduction, estimates James Duane, manager of secure systems design at Wang. This can create the market perception that the price of Tempest equipment is actually increasing relative to commercial-grade equipment.

Another trend in Tempest-related design involves concentrating less on servers and other equipment that are already secure inside closed rooms in the interior of buildings, and more on dispersed equipment, such as personal computers and terminals located near windows and thus in danger of signal interception.

On one issue all the Tempest manufacturers are agreed: the need for optical-fiber network interconnects, even for short paths and low data rates. Attempts to secure copper cabling proved too expensive, notes Duane at Wang.

Military Tempest demand has been stagnant among the U.S. services and the contractors that in the past were required to use Tempest equipment as a condition of their contracts. Yet Sentz at Ricoh says he does see opportunities in tactical environments for high-level communications among high-ranking officers, for example.

But one of the main reasons the few remaining companies stay in the business is to protect their other secure communications product lines even if this means making little or no profit on the Tempest items, say representatives of Tempest providers and the OEMs.


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May 2015
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