Tech security options floated

"Aviation Security: Terrorist Acts Demand Urgent Need to Improve Security at the Nation's Airports"

With attention focused like never before on airport, airline and air traffic control security, government and industry representatives at a congressional hearing Sept. 20 repeated warnings made in years past: Technology needs to play a bigger role and be secured.

For example, Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control computer systems remain at risk of intrusion and malicious attacks, despite a review last year pointing them out, said Gerald Dillingham, director of physical infrastructure issues at the General Accounting Office. Although the FAA is making some progress in addressing 22 computer security recommendations GAO made, most have yet to be completed, he said.

"Vigilance is required to prevent attacks against the extensive computer networks that [the] FAA uses to guide thousands of flights safely through U.S. airspace," Dillingham said in prepared testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Transportation Department Secretary Norman Mineta said several technologies —such as fingerprint recognition systems linked with FBI databases and retinal scanning systems—are available to beef up the passenger screening process, currently the responsibility of airlines. Heavy criticism of lax screening procedures could result in the process being federalized.

"All of these are being explored and some are already available off the shelf for utilization," Mineta said. Such technology would qualify for reimbursement under a congressional emergency support package for airlines, he said.

Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, said an FAA memory chip card system under development to identify armed law enforcement officers could also be used to screen airline and airport employees before they enter restricted airport areas. He noted that GAO inspectors passed two airport security checkpoints with weapons last year. Plans are in the works to install a memory card reader at each security screening checkpoint in the United States, Woerth said.

The FAA's Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS), which helps flag high-risk passengers based on airline data about them, should be expanded, Woerth said. The FBI is using the system in its investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks, he said.

"We recommend that CAPPS be used on all domestic and international arrivals and departures in the [United States], Canada and Mexico, even after the current threat is diminished," Woerth said.

The FAA also should take the names and addresses of pilots off of the World Wide Web, which it posted about a year ago, Woerth said. "This information could be used in any number of malicious ways," he said.

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