DOD's wireless safety net

DOD wireless security policy

A Defense Department policy released late last month provides what security experts describe as a workable strategy for eventually allowing the use of wireless communications within the Pentagon without compromising security.

The policy calls for development of a Pentagon-wide wireless network infrastructure, while also prohibiting wireless access to classified systems. And wireless devices used within the Pentagon must incorporate technology for securing such communications, including authentication and encryption.

DOD officials, who last week renewed their moratorium on wireless devices in the Pentagon, also have asked the National Security Agency to develop a database of known security flaws in wireless technology, according to a Sept. 25 memo signed by DOD chief information officer John Stenbit and Howard Becker, DOD's acting director of administration and management.

And officials will work to promote an enterprisewide wireless knowledge management process to promote the sharing of wireless technology capabilities, vulnerabilities and vulnerability mitigation throughout the department, according to the memo, which accompanied the policy.

The policy applies only to the Pentagon; DOD officials are working on a wireless policy that will cover the entire department.

The policy "establishes a balanced approach for mitigating vulnerabilities and security risks while supporting the responsible introduction of new technologies into the workplace," according to the memo.

Experts largely agreed with Stenbit and Becker's assessment.

"It's a conservative approach, but it ought to be conservative," said Daniel Ryan, an independent security consultant based in Annapolis, Md., and former director of information systems security at the Pentagon.

"It's not Draconian," Ryan said, noting that the policy does not prohibit wireless communications altogether. "It just says, 'Let's be careful.' "

It's also doable, he added. Creating a vulnerabilities database, for example, should not be a big deal for NSA, which already maintains many databases of security vulnerabilities, he said.

Experts said the approach represents a viable framework for mitigating some risks and, at the same time, ensures that the emerging technology can be deployed throughout the workplace in a measured and responsible way.

DOD officials recognize that the use of wireless technology is surging and are developing a plan for securely integrating it into existing systems, said Peter Lindstrom, research director with Spire Security, based in Malvern, Pa.

It makes sense to not allow the technology to be used for classified information, for example, but there are plenty of other ways to deploy wireless technology, Lindstrom noted. "By no means has the Pentagon banned wireless devices."

The end result is that organizations will want to look closer at the risks involved in using certain devices and develop appropriate policies.

Fortunately, the Pentagon does not have to build its wireless infrastructure from scratch, said Tony Rosati, vice president of marketing at Certicom Corp., a developer of secure wireless technology.

If an organization has an existing security infrastructure — and DOD does — it can build on that infrastructure and the existing security standards to begin securing wireless technology, he said.

A virtual private network can be used as a secure tunnel into a wireless network by using IP Security, a proven standard for authentication, he said, and secure e-mail can be added using the Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension encryption standard.

Over time, standards such as elliptic curve cryptography, designed for smaller devices such as PDAs and wireless phones, will play an important role in securing wireless technology, Rosati said. n


Safe Airwaves

The Pentagon's wireless security policy:

* Prohibits connecting wireless communications devices to classified networks or computers.

* Prohibits synchronizing with devices that have not been approved by Defense Department security officials.

* Allows use of wireless devices only in areas in which unclassified information is electronically stored, processed and transmitted. The devices can be used in classified areas when there is a documented need.

* Requires punitive action for employees who repeatedly violate the policy in a way that jeopardizes the security of Pentagon networks.

* Will be reviewed annually to keep up with technological changes.

About the Authors

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine,, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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