Computer defense redux

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz put on his G6 hat recently by issuing a memo that brought high-level attention to the problem of computer security.

"Recent exploits have reduced operational capabilities on our networks," Wolfowitz wrote. "Failure to secure our networks will weaken our warfighting ability and potentially put lives at risk."

The memo, which was widely distributed throughout the Defense Department and the military services, says people must take responsibility for their security vulnerabilities and problems that result.

"In most cases, proper vulnerability management would have prevented" any problems, Wolfowitz wrote. He offered five steps for improving computer security, including following proper password management practices. Translation: Stop using "Redskins" as a password.

DIA's computer girdle

Computer security paranoia has resulted in some true weirdness at the headquarters of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

We hear DIA officials have purchased thousands of computer "girdles" that wrap around laptops to prevent memory sticks from being inserted into the computers' USB ports. The girdles will primarily be used at the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

"They're freaked about USB ports," said an industry official familiar with the procurement. "This is an easy way to stop" employees from using them.

We wonder if this policy will have any effect on the Marines in Iraq, who, according to a Marine Corps Systems Command report last year, have used USB memory sticks as a poor man's workaround to the lack of bandwidth in the country.

Messengers toting memory sticks rather than paper play an essential role in translating network-centric warfare hype into battlefield reality.

JTRS jitters

We are picking up low-level intelligence that the megabillion-dollar Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) has hit some serious roadblocks that could delay the program for close to three years. We'll know more when the DOD budget requests for fiscal 2006 become public.

Meanwhile, some folks are pushing commercial WiMax technology backed by a lot of industry heavyweights, including Intel, as the ideal way to handle wideband battlefield data communications.

No phoning home

Hang on to your wireless phones. That's the message the British Army's director of infantry, Brig. Jamie Balfour, gave in a recent speech about the United Kingdom's new Bowman radio system developed by General Dynamics under a $3.5 billion contract.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Balfour said the Bowman radio system, designed like JTRS to support network-centric warfare, is unsuitable for use in frontline infantry operations. He added in a speech at the British Army School of Infantry that with "all the rumors you've heard [about Bowman], it's as bad as you've heard."

The Bowman squad radio, made by ITT, weighs 15 pounds, or three times as much as its predecessor, and has a complicated web of wiring to and from a display and computer that encircles the user. The high-frequency Bowman radio, manufactured by Harris, also weighs 15 pounds and caused burns on soldiers who used it, according to the Telegraph. A Harris spokesman in Britain said burns were caused because soldiers did not properly ground the radio.

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