Army to require encryption for traveling devices

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Army has kicked off a pilot program to implement mandatory data encryption on laptop computers and mobile devices. The program comes ahead of a pending policy on protecting portable devices in response to a wave of data thefts from federal agencies in the past few months.

In the coming weeks, the secretary of the Army will release a new policy on data encryption mandating that each Army laptop PC be designated and clearly tagged as travel or stationary. All travel computers must use commercially available encryption software until an enterprisewide tool is chosen, according to the policy.

“Data at rest is data at risk,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer. He announced the policy and other ongoing efforts at AFCEA International’s LandWarNet conference here.

Although the new policy has not yet arrived, the effort to secure portable devices starts now, Boutelle said.

“Read the newspapers.We can’t wait,” he said. “We’re saying if a computer travels, you will encrypt the hard drive.”

Boutelle has authorized Army personnel to buy encryption software from Credant Technologies for immediate use on all laptop PCs that have the potential for travel. Those computers represent thefirst target of opportunity in the effort toward full data protection, he added.

Software from Credant and Pointsec Mobile Technologies are the most prevalent encryption tools the Army uses, Boutelle said. But service members can begin encrypting their hard drives now, without buying anything, by using Microsoft’s Encrypting File System, which is part of Windows XP.

“You have that on your computer today, and very few people use it,” Boutelle said.

The Army’s program could become the model for a departmentwide policy. So far, the Defense Information Systems Agency has refrained from issuing strong guidance on security for mobile devices.

“We’re careful on what we ask for from the services, because if you can’t enforce it, it’s a weak policy,” said DISA Director Lt. Gen. Charles Croom.

He said he is watching the Army’s efforts closely. “My guess is I’m going to follow the Army example,” he said.

For now, Boutelle said, the moves are an interim solution. In the long term, in addition to choosing an enterprise encryption tool, the Army will rely on Microsoft’s Vista operating system for laptop PC security. Vista will interact with the Defense Department’s Common Access Card (CAC) to form a combination of data protection and identity security, Boutelle said.

The service will also incorporate Vista into the Army Golden Master standard PC configuration, which is mandatory for all Army desktop and laptop computers as of Aug. 16.Version 7.0 of the configuration is due out in February 2007.

Joe Capps, director of the Enterprise Systems Technology Activity at the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command, said Vista will be installed on Army systems in stages, with an initial rollout of 5,000 users next spring.

On June 23, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo to all federal agencies directing them to encrypt data on mobile computing devices by Aug. 7.

Portability has its pitfalls

Thieves continue to steal data by breaking into networks, but information can be at risk even when the network is impenetrable because portable devices can be lost or stolen. In many cases, unauthorized users might have no idea what they have, but it would only take one thief who knows how to exploit the information to wreak havoc.

Federal agencies are not immune to data loss. Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer, told a military audience at AFCEA International’s andWarNet conference that the Army issued its new laptop encryption policy in response to the growing list of data loss incidents across the government.

“Don’t be the one who loses that notebook computer and the data on it is not encrypted after you’ve seen what’s happened to the other federal agencies,” he said.

Losses of sensitive data on government computers have mounted in recent months. They include:

  • Aug. 9, 2006 — A laptop PC containing personal information on about 133,000 Florida residents was stolen from a government-owned vehicle in the Miami area.
  • Aug. 3, 2006 — A contractor’s computer containing personal records on about 35,000 veterans went missing from Unisys offices in Reston, Va.
  • June 2006 — An Internal Revenue Service employee lost a laptop PC containing personal data on about 291 employees and job applicants.
  • May 2006 — Thieves stole a laptop PC and hard drive containing the personal data of 26.5 million veterans from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee.
— Josh Rogin
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