Air Force debates security value of PDAs

MONTGOMERY, Ala.'Security was a major topic of discussion last month at the Air Force Information Technology Conference.

MONTGOMERY, Ala.'Security was a major topic of discussion last month at the Air Force Information Technology Conference.

The service is concerned with the lack of security personal digital assistants provide, and it is looking at several biometric devices to help protect information.

The Air Force should take a cautious stance before rolling out PDAs for widespread use, said a technical sergeant for the New York Air National Guard.

'No known PDA has successfully passed security testing and evaluation, operational testing and evaluation, intrusion vulnerability or penetration testing,' said Aaron S. Correll, a systems analyst with the Guard in Syracuse, N.Y. 'You put these devices under close scrutiny, they don't hold up.'

Despite the security concerns, Correll said, the Air Force should look at building a mobile strategy based on wireless devices. He suggested that the recently revised Air Force Instruction 33-202, which contains significant changes concerning PDA security, is a first step toward that goal.

For instance, PDAs must now be password-protected. They must be turned off when not in use. Users of government-issued PDAs cannot connect or subscribe to any commercial Internet service for e-mail because of 'the high operational risk posed by the possible collection of sensitive information,' Correll said.

'The fear there is that we'll have Air Force information floating about the globe,' he said. 'We're trying to start thinking about this.'

In your eyes

One way to keep the service's information secure may be to link access to data to the physical features of authorized users.

The Air Force will soon begin testing three types of biometric applications for greater security in daily operations, with partial funding from the Defense Department.

Frankie Sorrell, the Air Force biometrics program manager, said the 16th Air Force in Aviano, Italy, and the Air Intelligence Agency and Cryptologic Systems Group, both in San Antonio, are taking a quick look at the systems.

Sorrell said the systems to be tested use iris scanning, fingerprint scanning, and hand and face geometries for access to classified and unclassified systems.

After the 60- to 90-day tests, the Air Force will decide whether to buy the equipment. Sorrell said the Air Force test groups also will help other Defense agencies assess whether biometric security is suitable for their needs.

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