Video has become pervasive, and is essential to fulfilling the government’s mission. Smart weapons have integrated video cameras that relay images halfway across the world, and airplanes can be controlled entirely remotely. Unfortunately, video monitor and graphic card standards are driven by consumer trends in gaming and desktop computing, while technology lifecycles in the Federal government tend to be significantly longer. Various devices at the same workspace are updated in different cycles, resulting in incompatibilities.
MeriTalk recently connected with Belkin International’s John Minasyan, director of product management, Commercial Products, and Ashoka Rajagopal, director of sales, Cybersecurity Global Markets, to discuss the evolution of video standards, the risks and complexities that arise when various systems using multiple video standards are connected, and the importance of technology evolution as work environments continue to shift.
MeriTalk: How is the use of video in government changing?
John Minasyan: Video and video performance are increasingly important. Consider back in the 1980s, when Video Graphics Array (VGA) was dominant, for example. The standard resolution of a VGA monitor was 640×480 pixels. Today, advanced systems require eight-megapixel monitors with 60 to 120 Hertz refresh rates. Warfighting and geospatial intelligence are two critical areas that require advanced video capability and the Keyboard Video Mouse (KVM) technology to support it; we see video performance becoming more critical across government.
To address this need, we are pushing the video performance boundary with our Universal 2nd Generation Secure KVM (SKVM), which is fully compatible with Display Port (DP) and High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connections supporting resolutions of Ultra High Definition (UHD) 4K@60Hz per monitor.
MeriTalk: Computer video standards are evolving rapidly, mostly driven by applications outside of Federal industrial needs. As a result, agencies must contend with a plethora of video standards and connections. What does this mean for individuals and agencies?
Minasyan: The problem we have with applying common off-the-shelf standards to industrial or government applications is that typically, the technology lifecycles are vastly different. In the consumer realm, you have until the next holiday buying season to get a product built, sold, and discontinued before the next cycle. But in industrial and government installations, these products must last for three to five years – and in that time period, technology has changed a couple of times over.
When Federal agencies refresh one technology component and not another, it creates protocol disparity across products that creates technology management challenges. When disparate systems must work through an aggregation point like a KVM switch, you must worry about the output of the computer, the input and output of the KVM, and whether those are compatible with the input on the monitor, for example. Multiply this by several systems aggregated by the same KVM and you have a massive headache. It drives up costs and requires more time to debug and troubleshoot equipment. On top of that, compatibility issues are typically resolved by third-party converters that don’t follow required government security protocols – creating new vulnerabilities that must be addressed.
MeriTalk: How does a secure KVM help connect disparate systems, and at the same time create complications?
Minasyan: A secure KVM bridges those systems and allows you to share the same peripherals with multiple computers. But when you have products from different eras using the same KVM, the KVM must accommodate the old and new system and standards – and you must bridge that divide.
Ashoka Rajagopal: Also, new computers have HDMI or display port video outputs – and an old monitor may have Digital Visual Interface (DVI), VGA, HDMI, or display ports. Trying to use an old monitor with a new computer creates issues – and this happens often as government utilizes old equipment due to budget constraints.
MeriTalk: How is Belkin helping to solve these problems?
Minasyan: We hear stories from customers about how technicians would show up to a site with a specified KVM with cabling only to find out that the equipment installed is different than they thought. That technician then must go back to the home office, determine what video conversion is needed, and return to the site to finish the task. This creates unnecessary complexity, costs, and delays. We aim to leverage our technology to solve that problem.
As our Universal Secure KVMs control the inputs, outputs, and conversions internal to the KVM, the technician can come to the site, do the installation, and know the same unit will fit any application. Further, any video input standard is detected by the KVM and properly converted to the necessary output ? eliminating troubleshooting and debugging in the field. And, by incorporating the necessary conversion inside the unit, we eliminate the need for third-party, non-secure, non-certified devices for conversions, eliminating unbudgeted costs.
MeriTalk: Today, with many people working from alternate locations and some using equipment that wasn’t originally issued by the government, does that add another layer of complexity?
Minasyan: It does. The secure KVM has traditionally been deployed inside a government agency, with dedicated systems for secure, non-secure, and other networks aggregated at one desk location. As the government workforce becomes more mobile, we are seeing fixed desktop computers, as well as laptops and ultra-portables, increasing in the population. That further extenuates the compatibility issue as desktop computers commonly have older video standards – VGA, DVI, HDMI, or display port – while modern laptops primarily leverage USB-C ports. The user still wants to connect the laptop to the KVM and use the same peripherals – whether he or she is working on a travel laptop or desktop system.
It’s not only a productivity problem; it’s also a security problem. The government’s biggest fear is connecting to a peripheral device (keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc.) from a system that has been exposed to the public internet to a system that is running highly classified data or applications. The second you expose that peripheral device, you’re potentially enabling malware to move from the exposed system to a secure system.
The problem is not confined to just the four walls of a government building; it’s created when that government employee leaves, grabs a government-issued laptop and goes home. If that laptop connects to a home monitor and something nefarious is sitting in the memory, the malware theoretically has a path to flow into the laptop. Nothing is stopping it. Secure KVMs enforce secure, air-gap isolation between secure systems and internet-connected computers while allowing them to share a single keyboard, monitor, and mouse between them.
MeriTalk: What is Belkin’s approach to security and video compatibility?
Minasyan: Universal video is the bedrock of product development and a critical component of our strategy. We want to ensure customers have the ability to plug and play – to use the same KVM to accommodate old, new, and future technology. We not only want to ease installation problems today but also future-proof KVM investments. Our goal is to make KVMs one size fits all, so cabling is the only thing that needs to be changed out.
Beyond that, the Universal 2nd Generation Secure KVM (SKVM) focuses on user efficiency, by decluttering their desk and even removing the KVM. The Universal 2nd Generation series is compatible with the Belkin SKVM Remote Control with Integrated Keyboard. This allows the user to have a standard USB keyboard with KVM controls integrated, removing the KVM box from the desk as well as eliminating redundant keyboards and mice and giving them one keyboard with complete control over the KVM. This enables employees to focus on the job rather than on figuring out what switch to push or how to fit all the necessary equipment on their desk. Another product within Belkin’s portfolio of SKVMs designed for National Information Assurance Partnership (NIAP) Protection Profile 4.0 is the Modular SKVM, which is shrunken down to the size of a smartphone and features specialty mounts that attach to the back of a monitor or underneath a desk, leaving only an included, small remote control to operate.
Rajagopal: People using KVMs are touching them 20, 50, or 80 times a day – and nobody has thought about the user experience. Belkin is committed to making SKVMs easy to use – something you want to use, not have to use.