The new door openers
Defense Department officials used HSPD-12 smart cards in 10 trial runs to test their
feasibility for providing improved building access security
Interagency Smart Card Advisory Board’s PACS guide Version 2.2 (.pdf)Agencies are heading into the final stretch for implementing programs to comply with Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12. As they face the complex challenges involved in putting their secure smart cards into action, they are also hearing from employee unions about privacy concerns. And program managers are bracing for a backlash when people discover that it could take as long as four seconds to open a door with an HSPD-12 card. In the following pages, Federal Computer Week looks at these issues.
About a year ago, Bob Gilson stood before 55 people at a military base that authorities wanted to use for testing identity cards that would conform to a new governmentwide standard. The cards would be replacing those created specifically for the Defense Department with ones authorized by President Bush in an August 2004 order known as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12.
Gilson, a program analyst at the Defense Manpower Data Center, which administers DOD’s Common Access Card program, was expecting some pushback so he chose his words carefully. “It was a matter of getting all those people to hear the same message and understand it and agree on it,” he said. The HSPD-12 program eventually will supersede the CAC program. “We had to get them to agree to work together and work with us.”
Similar meetings are occurring frequently now across federal agencies. Their purpose is to solicit the cooperation of everyone who has a role in the HSPD-12 program: facilities managers, human resources officials, chief information officers and others. Each has different responsibilities, but they all must reach agreement on technical and compliance issues such as firewalls and building access privileges, he said. Their decisions will necessitate spending money and require agencies to alter the way they secure their buildings and their information systems and networks. By October 2008, agencies must begin using security protocols that conform to HSPD-12 standards.
DOD’s experiences during a yearlong trial run at 10 sites nationwide suggest the kinds of glitches and eureka moments other agencies most likely will experience in the coming months. Agencies must translate those lessons into procedures that offer greater security than current protocols for accessing federal buildings and federally owned computer networks and information systems. HSPD-12 cards are meant to be much more than expensive flash passes. Lessons learned
DOD is among the most experienced organizations at using smart cards for verifying identity. But DOD officials said they encountered a variety of challenges in their HSPD-12 trial run. “We wanted to make sure all the pieces worked and that nothing else broke at the same time,” Gilson said.
Officials discovered mostly technical issues. For example, at some locations, technical managers had to upgrade the software that enables card readers to communicate with the public-key infrastructures that form the backbone of HSPD-12 security.
Technicians also had to update software drivers in some card readers before the devices could read HSPD-12 cards. For the sites involved in the trial run, DOD used 1,000 HSPD-12 smart cards. The HSPD-12 standard calls for machine-readable cards that can be read by merely waving the card near a card reader or inserting the card in a reader.
Every location was different, Gilson said. “Some sites required gates, and others doors. Some were just inside doors, and some required more than single-factor authentication.”
Another complication arose when the Defense Information Systems Agency issued a mandate for DOD agencies to adopt single sign-on procedures based on PKI standards and HSPD-12 identity cards.
Those familiar with DOD’s HSPD-12 reality check said the results were reassuring. “The DOD pilot was very good,” said Roger Roehr, Tyco Fire’s government vertical manager. “You had older cards that you have to account for,” he said, but DOD was able to deal with that legacy and adapt to the new governmentwide standard.
Roehr said the State Department faces challenges similar to those DOD was able to resolve. Many of State’s building access systems are based on proprietary technology, which will make it them difficult to integrate with the new HSPD-12 infrastructure.
“We now are in a three- to four-year period where we will have to build systems that can read the old and the new cards,” Roehr said. “The biggest challenge is the back-end data-sharing,” for which no standard exists.
Roehr is a member of a group representing the Security Industry Alliance (SIA), Open Security Exchange and Smart Card Alliance that now works as a partner with the federal Interagency Security Council on developing guidelines for building access control standards. The group will submit best practices and recommendations to the Interagency Security Council by July 24, when the groups will meet to discuss standards.
Mark Visbal, SIA’s director of research and technology, said DOD found that as many as 85 percent of the physical-access control systems at military bases could not be retrofitted for the HSPD-12 cards because the new cards hold more data than the old systems can process. When DOD encountered that problem, Gilson said, the bases had to replace older readers and access control panels with new ones.
There are a lot of challenges to integrating the new identity cards with building-access control systems, Visbal said, not the least of which is compliance with mandatory Federal Information Security Management Act standards.
Another challenge is preparing employees to expect that it will take longer to open a door when they use their HSDP-12 cards in federal buildings. Visbal said he has seen employees become frustrated because the HSPD-12 cards can take as long as four seconds to unlock a door instead of the typical 500 milliseconds that workers are used to.
The challenges reported by DOD have prompted the Office of Management and Budget, which is overseeing the HSPD-12 program, to pause and consider what the next steps should be in implementing the governmentwide program.
“OMB will provide further guidance as required,” an OMB spokeswoman said. She added that OMB and the HSPD-12 Executive Steering Committee are working with the Interagency Security Council on developing strategies for agencies to use in modifying their physical-access control systems to accommodate the HSPD-12 cards.
Gilson said guidance and best practices will help, but DOD’s experience taught him that nothing is more essential to the HSPD-12 program’s success than good coordination between building security managers and officials responsible for network and information systems security.
“We are in a better place because of this pilot,” Gilson said. “We now know that several vendors can do this and that a single credential can cover logical- and physical-access needs.”