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Jul 30, 2011

A New Linux distribution: The U.S. Department of Defense Lightweight Portable Security (LPS)-Public

In the long list of Linux distributions, a new one was added recently. It is the Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) released by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
As mentioned in the documentation, “LPS-Public is not limited to the Air Force or the DoD; it is freely available for anyone to use”.

The LPS Linux is a product of the Software Protection Initiative established in 2001 by the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense with a mission to minimize the cybersecurity vulnerabilities by creating “a secure end node from trusted media on almost any Intel-based computer (PC or Mac)”.

This release comes to fill a gap of the much needed security for those who use computer communications while moving to different locations in public Wi-Fi and /or public PCs, and its main concept is to offer a lighweight but reliable operating system small enough to be carried in a CD or a USB flash drive, ready to load and run in the unsafe environment of the traveling corporate or military personnel, that “allows general web browsing and connecting to remote networks”. It includes the smart card-enabled Firefox browser ver. 3.6.19 supporting CAC and PIV cards. Common Access Card (CAC) and Personal Identity Verification (PIV) are both used by the DoD for identity verification of military and civilian staff.

This distribution comes with the Linux kernel version in two packages that anyone can download in ISO image ready to use. The basic LPS-Public ISO image version 1.2.2, and the LPS-Public Deluxe ISO image version 1.2.2 that includes OpenOffice and Acrobat Reader software.

A clear and simple installation guide is also offered with a lot of information for the user including a detailed description of the package and its features, the added security enhancements, and even a list of basic Unix commands for those looking for more flexibility.

I downloaded this distribution with no difficulty, burned the CD, created the USB thump drive ready to boot in any Intel based PC or MAC computer, and I tested it on a Mini HP Netbook, and an Intel E7500 desktop. The whole operating system loads in memory, runs very fast, no hard disk access is permitted or needed, and no malware can write any files and change any data in the USB flash drive.

Setting up the Wi-Fi connection was completely automatic, and there was no confusion with any missing drivers, or any other problems usually associated with small Linux distributions. The software passed immediately the test of compatibility with the e-Banking requirements of my Bank, and I have no hesitation to use it for transactions in the future.

Once loaded, the USB flash drive can be safely removed and replaced with another thump drive that may carry personal files. These files can be easily encrypted and decrypted using the AES 128-bit standard. The utility to encrypt /decrypt is the Encryption Wizard (EW), and also a free Firefox plugin is available to download and use with any Firefox browser.

I'd like to add a few comments not as a IT professional, but as a simple user who believes that this Linux distribution is really a very helpful tool.

First off, the free Encryption Wizard plugin for the popular Firefox browser (EncryptionWizard_2.2.0.xpi) is not yet compatible with the latest Firefox 4.0 release; I hope that an update will be announced soon.

Secondly, I would like to have more choices for setting the Display Size after booting the system. Some new wide screens cannot be adjusted to give their best quality, and when selecting the auto option the result is not always the best.

Third, I would like to see the EFF “HTTPS Everywhere” extension in the Firefox browser to force a secure (SSL) connection whenever available.

Finally, the inclusion of the OpenOffice Greek Dictionary in the LPS-Public Deluxe distribution would be a wonderful extension!

The intention of the product administrators is to do quarterly “maintenance releases” of the LPS-Public, and anyone wishing to receive update notifications can register here to keep his software up to date.

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