Wizards of wireless
- By Brad Grimes
- Oct 04, 2005
Defense experimentation lab builds a model for mobile computing
OPEN WIDE? J9's Derek Krein says the WLAN gateway soon will recognize if a user is off-site and open with more restrictions.
Still straddling the fence on whether to build a wireless network for your agency? Not sure if you can secure it properly? No idea whether it's cost-effective, or even very useful?
Consider placing a call to the Joint Forces Command in Suffolk, Va., where the Joint Experimentation Directorate (J9) has built what is arguably the government's most secure and efficient wireless LAN. You wouldn't be the first to pick up the phone.
'Folks are really interested in what we're doing. They're looking for documentation and how they can mimic, in some ways, what we've done and use it in other areas,' said Derek Krein, J9's head wireless engineer.
To date, folks have called mostly from other Defense Department agencies. Krein's team has briefed representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet. But it's also shared its wireless experiences with the Justice Department and the National Security Agency.
'And we have a large population of foreign liaison officers here at J9,' said Tony Cerri, the directorate's head of experimentation engineering. Recently, J9 detailed its secure wireless infrastructure for officials from Germany, Singapore and Sweden. 'It's basically a cookbook,' Cerri said.
The ingredients of J9's wireless LAN create what the team calls its defense-in-depth strategy: five layers of security to protect information that travels over J9's wireless and wired networks.
Why five layers? Because when it first started building a WLAN in 2002, J9 quickly learned that no single product could provide adequate protection for an enterprise-level network. And despite being an experimentation lab, J9's engineering team was in no mood to kick tires. It needed a secure WLAN to support its daily mission.
'We don't innovate, we're just solving problems,' Cerri said.
Today the WLAN supports more than 400 J9 users in three buildings. Roughly 270 of those users have adopted tablet PCs as their sole computing platform. Cerri said he's been pleased with the way people have embraced the new model, which allows them to be more productive because they can access the network from anywhere.Savings and portability
What's more, J9 has found the WLAN to be a money-saver, despite the multiple layers of technology involved. When it came time to network J9's new Bridgeway facility in Suffolk, the directorate saved 50 percent over the cost of running wires to every desktop.
The new Bridgeway building is 100 percent wireless, and should J9 ever leave the building, the WLAN can go with it.
With a secure WLAN in place, J9 has been able to exploit the technology in other ways. Its new Foundry facility is a small-lab environment that supports multiple projects. J9 has set up the Foundry's WLAN infrastructure so it can be dynamically partitioned into multiple small, medium or large networks that support 70 or more users, depending on need.
J9 also launched a secure voice-over-WLAN system for intra- and interbuilding communications. It currently supports about 45 users, and J9 is expanding it to the 75-person maximum allowed by its licensing agreement.
But not every wireless initiative at J9 has gone smoothly. The team wanted to provide streaming video over WiFi but might have to scrap those plans'although not because of technical difficulties. J9 was looking to roll out VX30 streaming software from a company called Maui X-Stream Inc. of Lahaina, Hawaii. Earlier this year, members of the open-source community accused MXS of incorporating open-source code into its products without following proper licensing procedures.
'The lawyers came back and said we could be held liable because we know about it,' Krein said. (J9 now employs its own full-time lawyer to work on intellectual property rights and other issues arising from JFCOM's move toward more open systems.)
Not content with deploying a secure WLAN, J9 is in the process of rolling out an array of technologies designed to secure all types of mobile computing environments. Today the directorate is testing a remote-access solution for reaching its wired and wireless infrastructure using a Layer 2 policy enforcement agent from Senforce Technologies Inc. of Draper, Utah.WLAN knows where users are
'It's actually going to recognize whether you're on-site or off-site and apply the policy accordingly,' Krein said. 'If you're on-site, it enforces [the gateway], opens up the firewall a little bit and allows you to do the things you need to do when you're on-site. When you're off-site, it turns on a firewall, forces VPN usage, ensures that antivirus software is up-to-date and ensures minimum patch levels.'
Krein said the remote access solution is still in pilot mode and is almost ready for deployment. As an added level of security for remote clients, J9 is rolling out software from Mobile Armor LLC of St. Louis, which performs whole-disk encryption.
'When you're off-site, doing remote access, if you have a lost or stolen device, it protects the device with AES, FIPS-compliant encryption,' Krein said.
As one of J9's on-site tablet PC users, Cerri said the Mobile Armor is as critical inside J9 as it is at remote sites.
'I oftentimes put my tablet down just like I would a piece of paper and can't remember where I put the thing,' Cerri said. 'It's good to know something is locking my machine up when I've gone and done the human thing and forgotten about it.'
The products J9 is using for remote access security are mostly off-the-shelf, but one innovative solution is something J9 contracted to have specially built'silicon chips that use radio-frequency triangulation to determine where, exactly, an individual is accessing network resources from.
Engineers are trying to get the technology down to the size of a USB key drive that can be worn around a user's neck.
'It will allow us to verify not only that a person is who he says he is ... but also that he is where he says he is,' Cerri said. 'We might grant him higher-level access if we know he is coming in from a secure facility, or less access if he's sitting at a Starbucks.'