Air base locks airborne logistics data

Secure wireless handhelds have kept track of supplies moving through a warehouse at Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Ala., for a year.

The base uses Fortress Technologies Inc.'s AirFortress wireless security solution to protect handheld bar code scanners that workers use as they receive, store and issue items in the base's Gunter Annex warehouse. Intermec Technologies Corp.'s scanners run Microsoft Corp. Windows CE and customized automated identification software, and use a wireless network based on the 802.11b protocol to send and receive data.

When Maxwell staff began evaluating security for wireless handhelds in 2001, the pickings were slim, according to Douglas Tindell, a computer services consultant with the Centech Group Inc. who works as a network engineer with the air base's Standard Systems Group.

"It had to be a [commercial off-the-shelf product] and [Federal Information Processing Standard] 140-1 certified, so that narrowed the field considerably," he said. "Back then, there weren't many FIPS 140-1- compliant security solutions. Wireless security was not even a market."

Although more products are now available, a separate but still unresolved issue is the lack of a policy throughout the Air Force on wireless solutions. "The Air Force is planning to make wireless a core service component, but that hasn't happened yet," Tindell said.

As one of the longer-running firms in the wireless security space, Fortress has had time to build up a comprehensive solution. "We combine privacy, access control, authentication, data integrity, encryption and key exchange into one platform that allows customers to implement their policy of choice," said Ken Evans, Fortress' vice president of marketing and product management.

With AirFortress, the handheld devices can be self-registered on the network as soon as users turn them on. However, users have the flexibility — if it's allowed in the security policy — to turn off the 802.11 enterprise wireless network and use a public wireless network instead. But the data isn't protected unless there is a personal firewall on the device, Evans said.

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