Allen: Integrated chip provides all-purpose security

Wired into PC motherboard, Trusted Platform Module offers multilayer e-authentication

Almost everyone working in an office uses a computer connected to a network. So computer users should be aware of the daily challenges information technology departments face in fighting viruses, malware and Trojan horses. They should also be aware of emerging threats such as identity theft initiated through e-mails that trick users into believing they are on a legitimate Web site. The usual suspects for this phishing activity are penny-ante thieves who want names, bank account numbers and passwords.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, the General Services Administration, the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) all agree: When someone’s true identity is essential, a name and password are not enough. In e-authentication, multifactor — more than one security function — hardware-based security tokens are becoming a requirement for sensitive data or high-value transactions that involve user identities.

Recent government legislation and directives — such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 — have created requirements limiting who has access to systems and data and controlling access based on policies and authorizations.

Until recently, strong authentication meant distributing separate tokens or devices, including smart cards, RSA SecureIDs, biometric readers or USB keys to users. Because this approach meant incremental purchase and support costs, such devices have been used for relatively specialized applications.

Then a new security hardware technology standard, called the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), developed by the Trusted Computing Group (TCG), appeared on the scene. Now being sold in high volume in PCs, it provides multifactor authentication as an integrated feature in the PC platform at significantly lower cost.

What is TPM? It is a robust, standardized security chip that is integrated as a permanent part of the PC motherboard. Open specifications developed by TCG, an industry standards organization with more than 120 member companies, define TPM, its application programming interfaces and security protocols. TCG started with PC security specifications. It is also developing specifications for adding hardware-based security to peripherals such as disk drives, keyboards, graphics cards, mobile phones, servers and other devices. TCG is focused on providing an open-standard security solution for all computing devices and networks.

With TPM, organizations can generate keys for signing documents and files, encrypting data, measuring the software on the PC to allow checking for any unauthorized modifications and protecting identity credentials.

For federal agencies, the first step is to specify that TPM and any other authentication components such as biometric and smart card readers are required features in every new federal PC or platform. Second, TPM, with appropriate software packages, has to be integrated into agencies’ existing identity directories, access systems and policy management for strong authentication. Finally, as new solutions for strong authentication emerge, TPM should be an essential platform element, regardless of the other required identity tokens.

Allen is executive vice president of Wave Systems, which makes security software.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group