FBI's data is on a national net

FBI's data is on a national net



States' hubs send encrypted data over frame relay to the FBI's redundant CJIS network in Clarksburg, W.Va., for multiple forensic database searches.


Network access speeds bureau's forensic data to law enforcement officers

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The FBI is connecting its Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) with the Criminal Justice Information Services network, a nationwide WAN installed in 1997 to transfer digital fingerprint files.

A ballistics database also is coming online, and a collection of automotive carpet fibers is being digitized so that state and local law enforcement agencies can access it electronically.

'We are looking to do more forensic databases over the WAN,' said Steve Niezgoda, CODIS program manager at FBI headquarters in Washington.

The FBI has been in the business of collecting and categorizing evidence longer than almost anybody else, and CJIS'a frame relay network provided by Sprint Corp. under its FTS 2001 contract'is cutting the time to compare data in the collections from weeks to hours.

'The thinking was, we could have other FBI systems using CJIS rather than have each build its own network,' said Steve Fischer, unit chief of the multimedia production group at the CJIS hub in Clarksburg, W.Va.

What had been the FBI's Fingerprint ID Division moved to Clarksburg in 1995 to develop the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System and the National Crime Information Center 2000, two of the agency's early online databases, Fischer said.

Clarksburg is the home for the databases and the network because it is more centrally located than Washington. A development team assembled in 1994 designed the network to deliver the data.

The design uses Sprint frame relay services to carry data encrypted by the Data Encryption Standard via devices from Cylink Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif. Routers from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., connect to the digital network through data service and channel service units from Visual Systems Inc. of San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Each state's identification bureau has a CJIS connection, generally in the capital. The Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and six federal offices also are linked. Most local offices have a Cisco 2514 or 2611 router. Clarksburg uses a pair of 7516 routers. The Clarksburg hub is fully redundant and fault-tolerant.

No downtime yet

'We've been operating for three years and so far haven't had any downtime,' said Jean Archambault, CJIS technical maintenance unit chief.

The network handles up to 74,000 fingerprint submissions each day in high-quality digital images of about 1M each. A set of fingerprints can be submitted by a local police department in minutes, checked against prints on file with the FBI and any matches returned within two hours. The process could take up to 45 days via the Postal Service and paper records.

The NCIC 2000 criminal records file went on the network in November, and IAFIS was added in July. Even though it was not originally designed to support other applications, CJIS is becoming the FBI's workhorse WAN.

'We're a service provider for law enforcement,' Archambault said. 'We can send across anything they want. We maintain all the communications equipment up to the remote location.'

When the national DNA index, CODIS, was designed in the early 1990s, attention focused on the database rather than communications, Niezgoda said.

'We were communicating with secure modems at 9,600 bits/sec, if you can believe that,' he said.

Old faithful

Since 1992, DNA files have traveled as e-mail under Novell Inc.'s Message Handling System. MHS became obsolete but was secure, Niezgoda said.

'The security requirement was a big reason we didn't upgrade to higher-speed modems,' he said.

The ballistics database used a separate TCP/IP-frame relay network. Because users were concerned about its security, both applications moved onto CJIS, which, though originally designed to support only IAFIS, had enough bandwidth for extra services.

Bringing the services online means hooking about 150 state DNA laboratories and another 68 ballistics labs to the WAN.

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