DHS wireless experiment takes to orbit

A Homeland Security Department experiment testing wireless communications and infrastructure is moving into a new phase, said Douglas Maughan, the project's program manager at the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Speaking Feb. 28 at the FCW Events Wireless and RFID Conference and Exhibition, Maughan said the project involves 15 Canadians, including members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and 25 Americans at DHS. The effort involves sending about 1,000 wireless messages a day to test security products and other parameters, some sent by the participants and others with an automated system.

This summer, the project will shift from testing cellular communications to satellite communications, and it also will evaluate security technology from Entrust. The user devices include Research in Motion BlackBerries and Palm Treos. Microsoft Mobile 5 devices may be added, Maughan said. With the future of the BlackBerry still uncertain, testing alternative products makes sense, he said.

The demonstration has already determined that:

  • Having to enter a password to access the device does not bother users.

  • Voltage Security products are easier to use than RIM's S/MIME, but Entrust hasn't been tried yet.

  • CipherTrust's IronMail e-mail security system is able to detect Social Security numbers (serving as a test of sensitive information) in both the body of an e-mail and in attached files. It also detects viruses consistently in compressed and uncompressed files.

Maughan said the project will soon begin examining ways to integrate the technologies into a government agency's infrastructure. That requires policy-makers to understand the need and get the requisite approvals from higher-level officials, he said.

As part of the same panel discussion, Tim Schmidt -- associate chief information officer for information technology services and chief technology officer at the Transportation Department -- outlined a continuity of operations (COOP) project he has been overseeing.

COOP should be part of the foundation of an infrastructure, he said. "If you try to do it later, it doesn't work," he said. "It has to be part of your initial thinking."

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