Could open source help cut the White House's multibillion-dollar software bill? The US government spends about $6bn per year on software licenses and maintenance, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Given the scale of that spending, it's understandable that the US, like other administrations around the world, is considering open-source software and open software standards as a way of saving money. But more than just seeing the move to open source as a cost-effective alternative, public officials worldwide view it as a means of speeding up innovation in the public sector. In October, the Dutch government set into law a proposal that all government bodies should use open document formats starting in 2017.
It was a case of spies watching spies watching spies: Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs. What gave the Russian hacking, detected more than two years ago, such global reach was its improvised search tool -- antivirus software made by a Russian company, Kaspersky Lab, that is used by 400 million people worldwide, including by officials at some two dozen American government agencies. The Israeli officials who had hacked into Kaspersky's own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion, which has not been previously reported, leading to a decision just last month to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers. The Russian operation, described by multiple people who have been briefed on the matter, is known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer, on which Kaspersky's antivirus software was installed. What additional American secrets the Russian hackers may have gleaned from multiple agencies, by turning the Kaspersky software into a sort of Google search for sensitive information, is not yet publicly known.
Back in August, the Obama Administration announced a new policy that requires 20 percent of the federal government's software projects be open source. To make all of that material easily accessible, there's now a place for you to view all of the code. Code.gov is the web-based hub for the initiative and it features around 50 projects from 10 different agencies. Those projects include the White House Facebook chat bot, Data.gov and the "We the People" petitions API. The recent policy change was aimed at reducing the cost of custom software purchases by allowing government agencies to share resources.
Bulgaria's parliament has mandated all public sector software must be open source. Members of the open-source community have welcomed new legislation from Bulgaria that says software written for the country's public sector should be open source. They argue that the amendment its parliament passed in early July will trigger better software, lower costs, and greater transparency. Bulgaria could be a testbed for other European countries interested in the idea of going open source, they say; other governments might watch what proves effective in this central-European country and learn from any mistakes. Digital business, open source foundations -- and how confusing tax gets.