DOD putting fingerprint sensors to the test

Pentagon and Army officials plan to test how they can use fingerprint technology to more quickly verify users in the field.

The Defense Department's Biometrics Management Office (BMO) and the Army's Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom) plan to test the technology in the Army's tactical Network Operations Center- Vehicle (NOC-V), a portable shelter mounted on a Humvee that provides network management for classified and unclassified data and voice networks used by soldiers. It is designed to provide network management in a small package, which reduces airlift and manpower requirements for brigade combat teams, according to Army officials.

The Biometrics Fusion Center — the BMO's test-and-evaluation facility in West Virginia, near the FBI's fingerprint laboratory — will collaborate with Cecom, based at Fort Monmouth, N.J., to conduct the tests, which include harsh-environment testing of the fingerprint authentication system within the tactical NOC-V, said Jay Kowalczyk, a liaison between the two organizations.

He said a meeting was held last week to finalize the project details and funding sources, but he declined to discuss the overall program cost. "We have to start right away to meet the operational timeline," he said, adding that that is going to take a "significant integration effort."

"The single biggest obstacle is integrating Unix," Kowalczyk said. "Biometrics as a whole is very [Microsoft Corp.] Windows-centric, but there's not a lot out there for the Sun [Microsystems Inc.] Solaris 8 environment."

The program will use some fingerprint sensors that have already been evaluated by the Biometrics Fusion Center, but even those sensors have never gone through environmental testing "that you can't do in an office," Kowalczyk said.

The fingerprint sensors will be tested under various conditions and with numerous external stimuli, including sand, mud, rain, humidity, solar radiation, shock and vibration, electromagnetic interference and extremes in the storage facility.

The goal of the biometric test, which is scheduled to begin shortly, is to improve information security and uncover potential synergies with BMO's other tactical biometric efforts, according to Linda Dean, the office's director.

Dean said the test would help enhance "information security procedures for brigade combat teams in the field" and also would benefit DOD as a whole because it encourages "feedback from warfighters regarding the use of biometrics in a tactical environment."

Kowalczyk said the feedback would be crucial because in the field, it is often difficult for soldiers to remember passwords and adding another one seems inefficient. Also, token technologies, such as smart card readers, have repeatedly been rendered useless by sand and are ineffective in rugged environments, he said.

Army officials would not name the specific technologies the Army will be testing because "there's no assurance yet that they're going to work," Kowalczyk said.

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