Joint Forces experimental division installs wireless LAN

The wireless gigabit backbone cost about $75,000 to install, says Derek Krein, security and wireless engineer with the Joint Forces Command.

The military has been careful in its adoption of wireless networks, seeking to avoid pitfalls in security and utility.

But the joint experimentation division has become the first unit of the Joint Forces Command to install a wireless LAN. And as users have seen the benefits the new network provides, the division is moving full-steam ahead on implementing the technology.

As the transformation laboratory for the Defense Department responsible for developing, testing and validating new warfighting technologies and concepts, the division, based in Suffolk, Va., recently completed its implementation of the LAN at a satellite facility housing 115 people.

By December, the division will bring wireless to a two-story facility being added to the J-9 building, for a total of 700 users on the wireless network.

'We wanted to get our feet wet in this area, and this whole thing started as a basic re-
search into these technologies to see how they worked and what would be feasible,' said Tony Cerri, experiment engineering lead at the command.

Saving money

'The more we got into this, the more we began to understand the total benefits of wireless,' he added. 'I am sold on this technology. We are not going back. This is our environment.'

A chief benefit of the wireless LAN is cost savings, Cerri said. The cost to wire a cubicle was about $1,000 each time a worker changed location. The new network lets users move around freely.

The wireless gigabit backbone cost about $75,000 to install, said Derek Krein, security and wireless engineer with the command.

Through the network, workers can run voice over IP telephony and use collaboration and e-mail software on wireless tablet computers. Among the models they use is the TravelMate C110 series from Acer America Corp. of San Jose, Calif.

And next year, the division plans to buy Stylistic 4000 computers from Fujitsu America Inc., also of San Jose, which will have 1.2G of RAM and 80G hard drives.

'The tablets that we are deploying also have air cards in them, wireless modems. You come up on that to get back on the network,' said Krein.

Cerri said going wireless has also saved employees time while increasing productivity. He said when he is conducting meetings and is asked a question, he can immediately search for answers.

Also, he takes notes on his computer during meetings and can send the notes to his staff immediately afterwards, rather than transcribing them from paper.

'That probably saves me a good 30 minutes a meeting from transcribing,' Cerri said. 'I carry my tablet around the same way I would do a notebook, but I'm always connected.'

But wireless technology still poses great security challenges.

Anil Khatod, president of AirDefense Inc. of Alpharetta, Ga., said although wireless protocols are easier to deploy and cheaper than wired infrastructures, they are also highly vulnerable to viruses and attacks.

In a wireless environment, much of the physical security of a wired network is unavailable.

'The signal no longer can be contained within the four walls of a building,' Khatod said.

Wireless signals cannot be contained by firewalls either, because the traffic is in the air and does not go through a firewall, he added.

The Joint Forces Command is using wireless monitoring devices by AirDefense for protection of the network data. The software-based intrusion detection system includes remote sensors, server appliances and graphical user interfaces to monitor all wireless activity.

We know ...

'We can tell you what wireless devices you have in the air. We can tell you who's connected to whom so you know pretty quickly if the associates are legitimate or malicious or accidental,' Khatod said. 'We can also tell you if your laptop or other things are not configured properly when it comes to wireless security.'

In April, the Defense Department issued a policy requiring wireless data encryption to be implemented end-to-end over an assured channel and validated against Federal Information Processing Standards requirements under the Cryptographic Module Validation Program.

Further, cellular, PC, radio frequency and infrared wireless devices are allowed only with special approval in areas where classified information is discussed, stored or transmitted.

The joint experimentation division's wireless network complies with DOD's new policy, Cerri said, and has experienced no security problems.

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