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NSA team, including two FLC leaders, wins Linsteadt Award for T2

A team of federal employees who advanced the National Security Agency’s (NSA) process for working with the open-source software community were honored on October 21 with the 2020 George F. Linsteadt Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer.

The prestigious award was given to Linda Burger, director of the NSA’s Technology Transfer Program; Karen Presley, deputy director; Alexis Henderson, then business development and marketing director; Joe Witt, the developer of NiagaraFiles (NiFi) and now vice president of engineering at Cloudera, and Kiana Williams, intellectual property portfolio manager. Two members of the award-winning team have ties to the Federal Laboratory Consortium: Burger is the FLC Vice-Chair and Presley is Chair of the FLC Educate committee.

The award was announced during a video teleconference by Dr. JihFen Lei from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering at the Pentagon.

“This team really recognized the potential of releasing the software, and each member really played a critical role,” Lei said. “Thank you for taking on this challenge and pushing it through the barriers. The review panel was particularly impressed by their innovative approach…well done, really well done.”

The NSA was chosen from among 11 nominations for the award. About 190 professionals from the Department of Defense’s tech transfer community were in attendance.

According to the NSA’s written nomination:

“Tools developed for mission use within the intelligence community (IC) have significant potential across a wide range of applications, including data management and cybersecurity. Unlike traditional CRADA and PLA agreements, open-sourcing does not limit the technology’s adoption and further development to those who assume at least partial ownership of its intellectual property. OSS remains available to anyone, encouraging broader and more rapid adoption of the technology while offering greater opportunities for scale and economic benefit.

By championing the approval and release of NiFi as OSS, Burger and the other members of the NSA TTP team held leading roles in the commercialization of technology that now is in use by several hundred companies worldwide. Presley oversaw the process of negotiating with interagency groups to approve the open-source release of NiFi. Henderson helped accelerate the Agency’s shift towards greater public engagement with the media and the OSS community. Witt recognized the potential NiFi held for solutions across a wide range of industries seeking out big data solutions. Witt advocated within NSA for NiFi’s release to the OSS community to improve the complex technology and keep it current. Williams’ role included assisting with the approval process for releasing NiFi and helping other DoD agencies engage with the OSS community.

Open-sourcing NiFi has fostered significant economic growth, including the launching of Onyara, a company started by Witt around the technology. In 2015, Onyara was acquired by Hortonworks, a Silicon Valley technology company. Hortonworks, in turn, merged in early 2019 with leading cloud software provider Cloudera, a company that has $794 million in combined revenues. NiFi is now used globally by Fortune 500 companies ranging from ExxonMobil and Ford to AT&T and Lenovo, which have implemented OSS and commercial adaptations of the technology to manage data flows and coordinate information from growing numbers of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Because of the broad adoption by a variety of developers and companies, the technology has generated significant workforce demand, with hundreds of positions for NiFi specialists available nationwide with an average salary of $130,000.

The standardized OSS release process established by the NSA TTP team led to commercial adoption of additional Agency software including Ghidra, a software reverse-engineering framework to analyze malicious code; WALKOFF, a network automation tool; and Host Integrity at Runtime Startup, which certifies computer components are free of malware. NSA released the Ghidra code to the public at the 2019 RSA Conference (50,000 attendees). To date, there have been 1.12 million Ghidra downloads and 21 million visits to the Ghidra site.”

The NSA Technology Transfer Program offers business and industry streamlined access to NSA technology. The program identifies technologies and research capabilities, providing a single point-of-contact for drafting, negotiating, and brokering both licensing and R&D agreements. The mission of the NSA TTP also fulfills federal technology legislation, White House Cross-Agency Priority goals, and NSA’s goal of strengthening and creating external partnerships.

The program maintains the agency’s extensive IP portfolio of patented technologies across multiple technology areas.

Through Patent License Agreements, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, Open Source Software Releases, Education Partnership Agreements, and Technology Transfer Sharing Agreements, the technical advances of NSA scientists and engineers have contributed to the creation and improvement of dual-use products both for government and the commercial marketplace.

Read more: https://techlinkcenter.org/news/nsa-tech-transfer-team-honored-for-open-...

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