The notoriously secretive National Security Agency has decided to dip a careful toe into the open source software world by launching an official GitHub page.
The page, which appeared recently, lists 32 NSA-developed technologies that the agency is making available via Open Source Software (some are still “coming soon”). These range from projects like goSecure, a portable Virtual Private Network solution, to Unfetter, a technology that “provides a mechanism for network defenders, security professionals, and decision makers to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of their security posture,” and beyond.
Much of the technology listed, though, is quite old. For example, one code repository included is for Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux), an access control mechanism that has been part of the Linux kernel since version 2.6.0, released in 2003. Another repository containing security enhancements for Android has been a part of Android’s operating system since version 4.3, which dates back to 2013.
The new GitHub presence is part of the NSA’s Technology Transfer Program, the mechanism by which the military spy agency licenses patented technology for development in the private sector space. The NSA’s presence on GitHub will allow the developer community to use and contribute to the posted code. It’s a win-win, the agency says — “the public benefits by adopting, enhancing, adapting, or commercializing the software,” the site declares. “The government benefits from the open source community’s enhancements to the technology.”
The NSA has become more amenable to a presence on the social web in recent years. The agency launched a Twitter account in 2013, at a time when it was working to repair its public image in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. Some see the GitHub page as an extension of this attempt to build public goodwill.
The NSA is far from the only federal agency on GitHub — the San Francisco-based company lists 134 federal government accounts and 11 U.S. military and intelligence accounts.