Implementing Test & Measurements Systems for Government Classified Areas using National Instruments


Often once a hardware system is brought into a classified area it can’t leave that area unless it has been cleared by the Defense Security Service (DSS). This white paper outlines the declassification process for PCI and PXI based test systems. It describes National Instruments common test & measurement hardware components that contain volatile and non-volatile memory, the amount of memory, and how memory is accessible by each National Instruments hardware part.

Process of declassification

The process for declassification is very simple. The volatile memory components on each of the boards will be cleared by a simple power down of the PC or PXI system. The non-volatile memory components will retain their contents when powered down. In each of the tables below it will list for each product group what is volatile and what is not volatile. It will also list memory size, its use, and whether the memory is accessible by a user.

Declassification of a PXI System

When declassifying a PXI system it requires knowledge of all memory components in the system including chassis, devices, and controllers. In the case of National Instruments PXI chassis none of them contain memory devices. The devices or hardware boards are a separate topic covered in the next section. The one area which needs to be addressed are the controllers in PXI. The remote connectivity controllers currently are either MXI or Ethernet. In the case of Ethernet the only concern will be with the embedded controller that it is interfaced to in the PXI chassis. The Ethernet device will have to go through its own declassification process. In the case of the MXI device whether it is MXI-3, MXI-4, or MXIExpress these devices have no non-volatile memory nor volatile memory.

The remaining challenge is using a PXI embedded controller in a classified area. Since these controllers use COTS laptop technology they also contain IDE hard drives similar to laptops. Since hard drives must remain in a classified area the PXI controller needs to ability to remove the hard drive. By default the National Instruments PXI embedded controllers ship with an internal IDE drive and by removing it the warranty is voided. The best solution to this problem is to order from National Instruments an embedded controller but with CIS or custom installation service to remove the drive in the factory. You can then use either an external SCSI drive or CompactPCI/PXI card drives which contain removable CompactFlash or 2.5” IDE hard drives. In either case you would then need to purchase at least one additional drive to leave in the classified area so that you could remove the PXI system. Another advantage of CIS is the ability to make a golden image CD which can be used to create a master drive image for your multiple drives in the classified and declassified areas. Further CIS can test and setup the BIOS in the PXI embedded controller so that it will automatically boot from the external drive. Contact your local field sales engineer from National Instruments for recommendations on external and removable drive solutions.

The BIOS on the National Instruments PXI embedded controllers is not accessible to add external information. Only system setup changes are allowed through the BIOS.

The remaining memory that is on the PXI embedded controllers is RAM which is volatile and will lose this information once powered down. Once the drive has been removed it is now possible to remove the PXI embedded controller from the declassified area.

Non-volatile memory accessibility with NI drivers

Non-volatile memory does allow for user accessibility except through our drivers. In most cases this is either for a) calibration b) memory configuration c) CPLDs d) Configuration ROM e) or other general EEPROMs. In all cases the non-volatile memory locations don’t have access to registries for dropping in classified information. Further, the memory values can’t be modified except through our specific hardware drivers for each different product. The only exception would be to provide custom calibration only constants for some RF and instrumentation hardware.

Device Specific Declassification Information

PXI Chassis and Controllers

High-Speed Digitizers

Arbitrary Waveform Generators and Function Generators

NI-DAQmx Devices (Multifunction DAQ and DSA)

High-Speed Digital I/O and Logic Analyzers

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