Governmentwide PKI challenges outlined

"Information Security: Advances and Remaining Challenges to Adoption of Public Key Infrastructure Technology"

The high level of electronic transaction security that public-key infrastructure technology can bring to the federal government cannot be fully realized until there is a governmentwide framework to guide agencies consistently, according to the General Accounting Office.

The vision of a federal PKI — using digital certificates to authenticate, authorize and encrypt electronic transactions between agencies and between agencies and citizens — has made substantial progress during the last few years, led by the Federal PKI Steering Committee and the General Services Administration. But there are several challenges still to overcome, including getting the Office of Management and Budget to lend its authority to direct the governmentwide implementation effort, wrote David McClure, director of information technology management issues at GAO.

The challenges outlined by GAO are as follows:

To develop an interoperable governmentwide system, agency PKIs will have to work seamlessly with each other, yet current PKI products and implementations suffer from interoperability problems. Full-featured PKIs are rare, and those that exist are new, so it is unknown how well this technology will truly scale and interoperate. Adoption of the technology may be impeded by the high cost. An effective PKI will require well-defined policies and procedures for ensuring that an appropriate level of security is maintained. Federal agencies will be faced with the challenge of training and involving both users and system administrators in the adoption of a difficult-to-understand technology. The Federal PKI Steering Committee is investigating solutions to many of these issues, and has already developed the Federal Bridge Certification Authority, which allows the many agency PKI applications to connect in a larger network. But the steering committee "does not have the authority to define or require adherence to a governmentwide management framework," McClure wrote.

The report, requested by Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations, recommends that the steering committee and GSA continue their efforts. But the only way to ensure such authority is to have OMB establish such a framework, working with the steering committee, the Chief Information Officers Council, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and others, the report states.

Featured

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

  • Comment
    Pilot Class. The author and Barbie Flowers are first row third and second from right, respectively.

    How VA is disrupting tech delivery

    A former Digital Service specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs explains efforts to transition government from a legacy "project" approach to a more user-centered "product" method.

  • Cloud
    cloud migration

    DHS cloud push comes with complications

    A pressing data center closure schedule and an ensuing scramble to move applications means that some Homeland Security components might need more than one hop to get to the cloud.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.