Going high, going low I just spent the afternoon ‘googling’ data analysis tools. I want to be able to summarise large volumes of unstructured text. Within minutes I can find open source code, cloud services, test data and blogs. Within days I can use all this to create working prototype IT capability.
For me, this illustrates the possibility of the internet connected world (aka the low-side). It’s a digital tapestry of unrivalled potential, an environment where solutions hover just beyond the click of a mouse or a tap of a keyboard.
However, if you work on secure government data – either in the public or private sector – then things sadly aren’t that simple. I, too, work on secure government programmes and security, as you’d expect, is important – really important. As a result, protected data and other information has quite rightly needed to be kept in secure air-gapped networks – ‘the high-side’ – which may succeed in safeguarding information but also renders a simple online search just not possible.
But times have changed.
As my colleague, Andy Brown has pointed out, the impact of the pandemic on working practices has helped fuel a shift amongst secure government organisations. Even those with protectively marked networks are increasingly seeking to implement a new operating architecture by sharing operations between their secure ‘high-side’ systems and one of lower security classification where users have a wider range of new digital technologies.
But there is still more to do to help bridge this divide – and that’s why we at Applied Intelligence have been seeking to manage this tension and better connect both low and high sides to maximise the benefits that both security classifications offer.

Stepping back in time

Six years ago, we had high-side development teams working on a new application for a secure government client but for the time we split our personnel across two levels of classification.
The bulk of the team developed the application low-side, with a smaller segment of the team deploying high-side (getting the application where it is needed). This gave us the benefit of being able to build a more diverse team, as not all the team needed the higher levels of clearance. However, the process wasn’t perfect – we still spent too much time doing things that really should have been automated.
To solve this conundrum we started automating the tasks we didn’t want to do. And so we created low-side test rigs that mirrored the high-side interface so we could quickly integrate and test applications high-side. At the same time, we also built a low to high code sync tool so that we didn’t have to manually transfer code.
All this took effort, but it was worth it. We increased the efficiency with which we could work low and then deploy high. We also didn’t keep this stuff to specific individuals, we shared it across all our teams so that everyone could reap the benefits.

People power

We all know the technology landscape is constantly evolving. As new advances continue to ricochet all around us, incorporating Cloud into our low to high working has been a recent focus for us. However, we have learnt it is equally important to focus on people.
That’s because a key aspect of low-high working is keeping the low and high teams close. It’s all too easy for the low-side team to feel like they are missing out on the core mission area, with some people only spending their time on high-side operations. But as mentioned earlier, the pandemic has forced organisations to ensure that their staff have access to a low-side device – such as a laptop they could use to work from home – and now, when working with secure government organisations, we always recommend this as an accelerator.
This is just one element of a playbook we have developed to help government departments maximise the benefits of low and high working. But as befits something designed to cater for myriad technological needs it is constantly evolving. In this business, you can’t afford to sit still.

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About the author
Oliver Dammone is an account manager at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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Recommended reading

  • The lowdown on low-side working. Secure government organisations have traditionally maintained their networks within air-gapped, siloed environments. But now it doesn’t have to be this way, as Andy Brown explains
  • How I stopped patching and made my system more secure. Andrew Stock says that of the many benefits arising from serverless technology, removing the need for continuous patching is surely front and centre
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  • It’s a numbers game. Engineers nowadays have to be even more multi-faceted than in previous generations. Andrew Stock explains why cost optimisation now ranks high among engineering discipline.

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Oliver Dammone

Account Manager at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence