Administration touts smart cards, but some agencies are skeptical

Administration touts smart cards, but some agencies are skeptical

While the Office of Cyberspace Security prepares a governmentwide security plan for release this summer, Paul Kurtz, its senior director for national security, is urging agencies to think seriously about using smart cards to protect their systems against a terrorist attack.

The Cold War model won’t work this time, he said at a conference sponsored by the Smart Card Alliance. “We can’t use those radars in Alaska to find that cyberattack,” he said.

“Smart cards obviously will be a part of the solution set,” he said. “We need to connect all agencies and private-sector operating systems.”

Theresa Schwarzhoff, senior computer scientist and program manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said her agency is developing a road map to help agencies understand their security needs.

The technology exists for smart-card adoption, but individual agency policy can be a barrier to governmentwide adoption of the card. “Even though there are standards, there are different ways standards can be implemented,” she said.

Version 2.0 of the Government Smart Card Interoperability Specification will include standards for agencies to store biometric templates on the smart cards. “We want to see smart cards with security in mind,” Kurtz said. “We want security built in up-front.”

Freda Paintsil, an information security analyst at the General Accounting Office who is working on a report that could be released as early as August, said the government will have to overcome at least three barriers to smart-card adoption.

The biggest barrier is that civilian agencies, unlike the Defense Department, do not have a mandate—or the funding that goes with it—to adopt smart cards.

And because there are no technical standards for smart-card readers for physical access, agencies can only use cards for network access.

Some Defense offices in commercial buildings have the added pressure of convincing commercial owners to install smart-card readers at building entrances.

“There’s no federal legislation,” Paintsil said. “That’s probably the biggest barrier.”

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