Another View: RFID tags secure vital hardware

Allen Griebenow

In the third known incident of its kind in two years, the Los Alamos National Laboratory is again faced with the embarrassing reality of missing classified data.

Although officials decline to disclose specifics, the data is generally stored on devices called Classified Removable Electronic Media, available to virtually all employees with a security clearance.

In light of similar cases in December 2003 and May 2004, the lab had to shut down most activities as the search for the missing items was undertaken. Were Los Alamos a profit-dependent private enterprise, such a drastic step would prove ruinous.

Los Alamos is not unique. Reports indicate other agencies are unable to account for 3 percent to 4 percent of their notebook computers. Only one-third of companies typically report missing notebooks, but the latest survey by the FBI and Computer Security Institute showed close to 50,000 incidents of notebook theft.

The lack of accountability for classified data on IT devices is a fundamental management responsibility, applicable equally in industry and to secure government facilities.

Fortunately, top managers with responsibility for securing physical assets can now use off-the-shelf technology to enforce procedures instead of just trusting employees to comply. Wireless automated identification technology can track, manage and protect assets and match them to designated authorized personnel, creating a secure tracking and control mechanism for people, vehicles and valuables.

Radio frequency identification incorporates the core components of any good security infrastructure: automatic sensing, surveillance and notification when security is breached. What's more, 'active' RFID tags do not depend on scanners or proximity readers and have been shown to be effective in preventing removal of valuable assets without authorization.

Employees and visitors need the flexibility to move about a facility with their classified notebook PC or storage device, or even leave the facility with personal or government property without unreasonable and intrusive security measures. Tamper-proof, battery-powered RFID tags transmit autonomously.

This means assets can be tracked, automatically identified and protected. Even if innocently misplaced, a tagged item cannot 'disappear.' The owner or authorized custodian is equipped with a complementary personnel tag, so even in high-volume turnstiles, owner and portable asset are automatically and noninvasively identified and authorized to enter or leave. The same applies to secure parking lots, where a vehicle can tracked along with the occupant.

Best of all, the 'hands free' nature of active tags means detection does not depend on voluntary compliance, inconsistent even with 'zero-tolerance' edicts. Active tags will even remind an absent-minded professor of the forgotten top-secret storage device in his briefcase.

In these times of global instability, I can think of no better way to protect America's nuclear secrets than active RFID tagging of Los Alamos National Laboratory's storage devices, and those of every secure government facility.

Allen Griebenow is president and chief executive officer of Axcess Inc. of Carrollton, Texas.

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