DOD still wrestling with scalability, security for wireless networks

As the Defense Department moves toward adopting mobile devices for its personnel, its services and agencies are grappling with issues such as security and the logistics of issuing and managing large numbers of smart phones. A panel of experts from across DOD discussed these issues at a Secure Enterprise Mobility conference in Washington, D.C., recently.

The goal of DOD’s mobility enterprise is to establish the government’s mobility infrastructure, said Bill Edwards, integrated project team lead at the Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center, Atlantic. Federal agencies are playing an active part in this work by enabling wireless services, creating opportunities to expand unclassified data systems to allow warfighters to access information anywhere and anytime, he said.


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Mobility-as-a-service is a subset of software-as-a-service, Edwards said. He added that President Obama’s BlackBerry is proof that secure mobile devices can be successfully issued to federal employees. The solution to the security issue is to develop a layered approach to accreditation and access, Edwards said. But the challenge lies in creating authentication tools. Encryption is not a worry; the difficulty is in developing hard and soft security certificates for users, he said.

Mobility is being pushed hard by the services, said Greg Youst, mobility lead and interdisciplinary systems engineer at the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA’s) Chief Technology Office. He noted that within DISA, his group’s role is to strategically view the move to mobile. The key goal for the services is to save money, he said.

However, managing the widespread adoption of mobile devices is full of risks, Youst said. One challenge is that individuals and some DOD organizations want to allow the use of personal wireless devices. One aspect of the Army’s move to issue handheld devices to its personnel is that it only extends to active-duty soldiers. For example, he noted that the service can’t afford to issue every Army national guardsman a DOD-approved smart phone, but those soldiers also need to get onto the network to view their performance appraisals and other data. DOD must decide how to balance what it needs to get the job done and still protect the network, he said.

The Army is the lead DOD agency for mobile efforts, but not all of the services are up to speed with well-defined use cases, said Tao Rocha of SPAWAR’s tactical wireless network branch. He cited the example of the Navy, which does not have a set of well-defined requirements. “The use case is not being sold at the Pentagon,” he said. What is needed is industry input to help push a use case, he added.

Major Navy IT programs such as the Consolidated Afloat Network Enterprise Services and the Next Generation Enterprise Network do have some enterprise mobility use models for mobile devices, Rocha said. At the tactical level, the Navy follows the Marine Corps’ lead. However, the service still has no firm definition on what type of handheld devices it wants to use, he said.

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