Smart card use booming

Smart cards, while not a panacea, have "tremendous potential" to help agencies and organizations guard their networks and buildings against potential unauthorized intruders, said Paul Kurtz, senior director for national security in the White House's Office of Cyberspace Security.

Kurtz, who was speaking June 4 at a Smart Card Alliance symposium in Washington, D.C., said the "deployment of smart cards and the use of smart cards will be significant."

Smart cards, which contain a chip that can store data such as a person's name and fingerprint, help protect agencies' networks, buildings and data against unauthorized access, he said.

"Smart cards represent a possible solution to the architectural problems of secure, mobile identification," Kurtz said. In other words, "they can do a hell of a lot." Kurtz also said that most information networks are not designed with information security in mind. "This is what we are looking for in the production of smart cards," he said.

Still, there are challenges, Kurtz said, including interoperability, infrastructure, privacy, security and cost.

Agencies already are rolling out smart card projects. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration plans to equip all of its employees with smart cards as part of a new pilot program, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is discussing the possible distribution of 15 million cards to local, state and federal employees.

The smart card market is growing, said Paul Beverly, chairman of the Smart Card Alliance and a vice president with SchlumbergerSema. The federal government market experienced a 1,000 percent growth rate in the use of smart cards from 1999 to 2000, he said, compared to a 244 percent increase in the financial market. The growth trends are expected to continue this year, he said. Fortune 1,000 companies and federal agencies, for instance, "will issue smart cards to provide recognized credentials to their employees," he said.

However, smart cards are not the only solution, nor a "panacea," Kurtz warned. The cards are a piece of a larger, coordinated effort to protect the nation's infrastructure.

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