FAA floats security options

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

With attention focused like never before on security in the skies, 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.

Air traffic control computer systems within the Federal Aviation Administration remain at risk of intrusion and malicious attacks, despite a review last year pointing out the problems, 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, 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, which is now the responsibility of airlines.

Heavy criticism of lax screening procedures could result in the process being federalized. 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 screen airline and airport employees before they enter restricted areas. 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, which helps flag high-risk passengers based on airline data about them, should also be expanded, Woerth said.

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