DOD wireless policy looks to the future

In crafting the long-awaited update of their policy on the use of wireless networks, Defense Department

officials decided to take a minimalist approach and provide basic guidelines rather than detailed technical specifications.

Directive 8100.2 updates a 2-year-old policy intended to prevent wireless networks from becoming easy access points for hackers looking to access DOD systems and data. The new policy, which covers the use of wireless networks inside any DOD facility, primarily defines a baseline encryption standard to which anyone using wireless technology inside a department facility must adhere.

According to Navy Capt. Sheila McCoy, team leader for information assurance in the Navy Department's Office of the Chief Information Officer, said the goal was to outline DOD's immediate concerns with wireless technology and allow the services to determine how best to address them.

"This took several years to get out," McCoy said, speaking May 11 at the AFCEA TechNet International conference in Washington, D.C.

At the first meeting, convened to discuss the formation of the new policy, DOD officials heard 80 people calling for 80 different priorities. But after many months of work, the policy started to take shape.

One of the department's priorities was to develop a policy with some shelf life, she said. "We knew there was no way we could get all of the latest technology into the instruction and keep it up-to-date by the time we went to press."

The solution was to develop a knowledge management process through which users could exchange ideas and information about the capabilities of wireless technology and security concerns and solutions.

The process, McCoy said, would allow DOD and service officials to keep abreast of technological advancements while adhering to the policy's standards.

DOD officials have become more concerned about the use of wireless networks as they weigh the risks vs. rewards of using the relatively new technology.

Security has been the main concern, leading to a widespread moratorium on

the use of wireless devices inside the Pentagon and in many other secure DOD

facilities. But most DOD officials realize the potential benefit of the use of wireless devices.

"It's a fact of life," said Marine Gen.

Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a town hall meeting at the Pentagon May 11. "People are going to have these things. They're available to everybody. So just like the ubiquitous coverage of TV, you learn what environment you're working in, and you work inside that


McCoy, quoting her boss, Navy CIO David Wennergren, said, "If we aren't using wireless in a smart way, we'll be the only ones who aren't. There are a lot of fear-mongers out there."

Peter Lindstrom, research director for Spire Security LLC in Malvern, Pa., which conducts market research and analysis

of information security issues and requirements, said the focus on encryption standards is a good start for the policy.

But, he said, equal attention needs to be paid to authentication, which is the ability to identify people accessing a network or system.

"There is always the possibility that someone will have a device that can sniff data out of the air," he said. "So you must keep your data encrypted. But more important than the data, perhaps, is ensuring you can deny access to the network, wireless or otherwise."

Developing a mandatory minimum standard was a wise decision, Lindstrom said, because officials at individual commands often understand their wireless

security needs better than the Pentagon does.

"If DOD forced the highest security standards possible, people weren't going to want to do it," he said. "If you try to impose that, you're going to get a rebellion and

create hate and discontent in the user


McCoy said the most important aspects of any information technology policy, including wireless, is to balance risk, determine the levels of tolerance and mitigate the vulnerabilities.

"This is a case of standards vs. specific technology," she said. "We don't want to build our own stuff. We want industry to do the research and testing and [then] we'll buy it and use it."

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