Shipboard staffs await rules for handhelds

Shipboard staffs await rules for handhelds


ABOARD THE USS CONSTELLATION'The Navy's network administrators are in limbo until they get official direction on the use of handheld devices. In the meantime, they must keep handheld-accessible LANs and information secure.

The Navy has no policy on using wireless handheld devices, said Lt. Jane Alexander, a Navy spokeswoman. The service has at least three pilot programs to test wireless handheld devices for streamlining shipboard jobs, she said.

The problem, according to folks such as Warrant Officer Les Strong, who manages the LAN aboard the USS Constellation, is maintaining shipboard systems integrity. Most systems administrators don't know how many sailors aboard use Palm devices from Palm Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., or whether the devices can introduce a disastrous computer virus.

How many Palms?

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size="2" color="#FF0000">Petty Officer 2nd Class Evan Wunderle worries about wireless Internet access aboard the USS Constellation.

Anyone planning to access the LAN using a Palm is supposed to tell Strong and his team so the sysadmins know who is doing what with the ship's information systems, Strong said.

Strong estimated that three or four crew members had asked for help setting up Palms for LAN access, but in January at least 20 sailors showed a GCN reporter personal and government-issued Palms and discussed their usefulness in accessing and downloading data. Even if they all let Strong know they were using Palms, he said, he is so short staffed that he could never monitor all the activity.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Evan Wunderle said letting sailors wander the Internet indiscriminately with wireless devices could be as hazardous as when sailors fail to take proper precautions during shore leave. 'We don't know what they could be bringing in,' Wunderle said.

But maintaining data integrity may be the real issue for the Navy. GCN Lab tests support Palm executives' claims that the device is unlikely to transfer a virus to the systems with which it links.

'The Palm only supports specific suffixes as part of its file structure,' said John Inkley, Palm's manager of federal sales.

In a test, the GCN Lab transmitted a known computer virus from the lab's virus zoo via wireless e-mail to the Palm VIIx. The e-mail came through OK, but the attachment that contained the virus did not, said John Breeden II, GCN Lab director.

Although this could be construed as a weakness in the Palm's ability to support e-mail attachments, it also protects the device and associated networks, Breeden said.

'As far as we know, there are no known viruses that attack Palms,' Breeden said. 'The operating system is pretty basic, and an attack program would have a difficult time messing with the core system.'

There are no programs that can convert a Microsoft Windows executable file or a Visual Basic file to Palm language and back, Inkley said.

Navy brass is concerned about security, too. 'The Navy definitely wants to take advantage of the growing wireless technology,' Alexander said. 'But we need to do it without any risk to security. Once we figure out how to do that, we need to then devise a plan to widely deploy that capability throughout the Navy.'

But while the staffs of Adm. Richard Mayo, director of space and information warfare command and control, and Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, develop the policy, sailors are logging onto Navy LANs with their personal Palms.

Meanwhile, Strong and his staff wait and wonder who is accessing their systems and how they can protect data integrity.


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