Pentagon bans wireless from sensitive areas

The Pentagon has begun prohibiting workers in classified meeting areas from using wireless devices unless they disable their transmission capabilities.

Personnel cannot bring digital devices with wireless data transmission capabilities into Pentagon sensitive compartmented information facilities (SCIF) "unless the device's infrared port has been taped over by an opaque tape and its antenna has been removed/disconnected," wrote David O. Cooke, the Pentagon's director of administration and management.

"It's a very good policy to have," said Alan Paller, research director at the SANS Institute in Bethesda, Md. "The reason a SCIF exists is to isolate" classified information, he said. The wireless policy exists for "the same reason you don't allow floppy diskettes to leave SCIFs. It's the same reason you don't allow tape recorders at the CIA."

In a March 6 memo, Cooke said that his policy's success will depend largely on individuals voluntarily abiding by it. He also called the policy "an interim measure pending publication of a national policy," and that SCIF security managers should consider it a basic level of security protection.

Part of the value of Cooke's wireless policy is that it reminds classified workers that they probably shouldn't bring wireless devices into SCIFs, Paller said. Users can't remove the antenna on many wireless devices, he said.

The policy also gives the armed services a way to prosecute anyone who violates the policy, Paller said.

The Defense Protective Service is implementing Cooke's memo, said Glenn Flood, a Pentagon spokesman. Since DPS handles physical security for the Pentagon, it is notifying organizations about the wireless policy, he said. It's up to each organization to report any violations of the wireless policy that occur.

Part of the Pentagon's caution could have to do with the fact that wireless devices from companies such as Palm Inc. and Research in Motion Ltd. (maker of BlackBerry) have become more popular among the armed services' top officials.

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