Solving the password challenge

Smart cards offer tamper-resistant credentials for building, network access

Federal directives on electronic credentials could be the springboard to boost widespread use of smart cards governmentwide as agency officials issue them for access to buildings and networked resources.

Proponents of smart cards in the federal government got a boost from Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, issued in August. It requires agency officials to provide all employees and contractors with a tamperresistant credential that can be electronically authenticated in the coming months. Although smart cards are not explicitly named in the directive, many industry observers believe smart cards will be the most secure, cost-efficient way to meet the directive's requirements.

"The homeland security presidential directive is a validation of the work that we've been doing for the last year or so," said Judith Spencer, chairwoman of the General Services Administration's Federal Identity Credentialing Committee. "It does give some legs to the work we have been doing. For those agencies that have been hanging back a little bit, it is a new incentive to start participating."

Smart card vendors, meanwhile, are adding scalability and management features and functionality to their wares in anticipation of more governmentwide smart card deployments.

Federal officials initially used smart cards, which are credit card-size plastic cards containing an embedded computer chip, as electronic badges for employees to gain access to buildings. The face of the card can have photos and identifying data that an electronic reader can verify. For access to computers and networks, smart cards can replace or augment personal identification numbers and passwords, which can be lost or otherwise compromised. The cards also can house a digital certificate or a biometric identifier such as a fingerprint.

A smart card system is made up of the cards and a reader. A connection is made when the reader contacts a small area on the front of the card. Readers serve as a path for applications to send and receive commands from the cards. For applications in which it is not practical to have every user touch a reader — such as clearing many people through a building at once — contactless smart cards can communicate with the host system via an antenna. Users only have to wave the card close to a wireless receiver. Middleware software is also often required to enable the applications to work with smart cards.

Large-scale deployment

Officials at ActivCard Inc., which lists the Defense and Interior departments among its customers, are adding single sign-on and logistics management functionality to their offering so the technology can support future smart card deployments. Greg Dicks, ActivCard's vice president of government systems, said programs like one at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which involves providing cards to as many as 500,000 employees and 20 million constituents, will change the face of the federal smart card landscape.

"In the early days of credentialing and badging, everyone was doing a pilot," Dicks said. "That jig is up. We're going to do tens of thousands ...and ultimately millions. The logistics of handling the card are huge."

ActivCard officials recently announced that they would give developers open administrative access to the company's suite of Smart Card ID Applets, a move designed to ease application integration with the cards while supporting mass distribution, Dicks said. Additionally, officials have added a logistics portal and user maintenance features to the system.

"You've got to manage that card from the time it is ordered to the time you decide it's dead," Dicks said. "Those are critical elements associated with scalability. ... The more we use the card and the more applications it touches, the higher the need will be for updates to the information supporting those cards."

Many officials are eager to link support for physical and network access on a single card. They also want to maximize the savings of supporting a single back-end identity management system, which replaces multiple systems supporting physical and network access and presents users with a single security passport for all interaction with the agency's enterprise, said Chris Meaney, director of secure networks at Siemens AG's Information and Communications Networks Division.

When users don't have to remember dozens of passwords, help-desk administrators' burden is eased because they won't have to spend time looking up forgotten passwords, Meaney added.

However, many agencies have multiple access systems not connected to one another or to networked systems, he said. Siemens offers a portfolio of identity and access management products that help agency officials link the systems to a centrally controlled database that can be automatically updated from back-end systems.

The combination of physical and network access in one card is essential for officials to make a business case for using smart cards, said Neville Pattinson, director of business development, technology and government affairs at vendor Axalto. DOD

officials ordered 800,000 cards from Axalto last month to expand the agency's Common Access Card program, which uses smart cards for physical and network access for employees and contractors.

"We expect there will be many other federal agencies and now some of the state agencies that will start to ramp up smart card initiatives, and we are going to see this trend trickle down to the local level," said Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance. "Agencies have to get the funding together and change their priorities and put the people and the dollars behind the upgrades necessary to support the [recent presidential] directive. In the future, it will be common that smart card technology will be the way for people to identify themselves." l

Havenstein is a freelance writer based in Cary, N.C.

Leaping into deployment

Agency officials considering a smart card project should apply the best practices and lessons learned from pioneer smart card projects launched at the Defense Department and other agencies, said Judith Spencer, chairwoman of the General Services Administration's Federal Identity Credentialing Committee. Agency officials can get involved with the committee or attend meetings of the federal Smart Card Interagency Advisory Board.

"It behooves agencies to get involved in the committee work. The resources are there, and this is one area where working together and collaborating can give levels of effectiveness and efficiencies to agencies across the board," Spencer said.

Once officials decide to take the leap into the smart card arena, one of the most important tasks will be carefully defining what applications will go on a card to ensure that the card will not have to be reissued, industry observers said.

"Once you start to issue in a large enterprise, changing cards becomes problematic," said Chris Meaney, director of secure networks at Siemens AG's Information and Communications Networks Division. "You want to get a useful life out of the card in the three- to four-year range. You need to forecast what your apps are going to be, and then you need to draw hard lines around that."

In addition, unlike many other information technology projects, printers play a crucial role in smart card programs, Meaney added. When selecting a device to use for printing smart cards, agency officials must consider the card's technologies and the functions that must be performed.

For example, in projects in which smart chips, antennas and magnetic stripes are combined, the slight imperfections on the cards where the chip and the antenna reside can render many card printers ineffective and result in smudges and discoloration, Meaney said. Officials must determine if they will be printing on both sides of the card and whether they will be printing a hologram or encoding a magnetic stripe.

"Assuming the badging station software supports the function, it is possible to combine multiple steps into the printing process by including additional functions in the printer such as batch card feeders or magnetic stripe encoders," Meaney said. "This can result in significant time savings per card that multiply as the number of cards increase."

— Heather H. Havenstein

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.