• United States



Not So Hands-Free

Oct 07, 20023 mins
ComplianceCSO and CISO

There are more than 3 million civilian and military personnel in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and as you can imagine, selecting what technologies and tools they use to communicate top-secret information is a big priority. While wireless applications may have the support of the private sector, the military has questioned their security, distributing an interim proposal to halt the use of certain wireless devices and services.

According to a spokesperson for the DoD, the wireless applications in question are not cell phones but third-generation devices such as handheld organizers and other applications that use wireless technologies, which may or may not live up to the security requirements of the DoD.

Another concern of the DoD is that some wireless devices emit constant signals, sometimes without the knowledge of the user. That means the enemy could locate military personnel or tap in to conversations. For example, John Stenbit, CIO and assistant secretary of command, control, communications and intelligence for the DoD, used a wireless signal scanner and detected outgoing signals during a recent meeting with top military compatriots. One by one, meeting attendees turned off their wireless devices, but the scanner still detected signals. Offending devices had to be removed from the room to ensure that top-secret military information wasnt being disseminated to the enemy. This is not just a matter for the DoD but perhaps the whole business community, says DoD spokesman Lt. Col. Ken McClellan.

For now, DoD personnel must stop using all unapproved wireless devices or face punitive damages. The DoD has yet to finalize a list of which devices are OK and which are not; in the interim, personnel are asked to use common sense. McClellan acknowledges that this directive will have a significant impact on military personnel worldwide, limiting their communication tools. But more important, the directive ensures protection for the DoD information grid.

There will be an impact on those using the devices now, but military personnel need to think about where they are using these devices and who they are communicating with, says McClellan. The interim directive is a placeholder for a final policy on wireless usage to be developed in part by the National Security Agency. The new policy is expected to mandate a national standard for wireless usage within the government and military.

Even wireless advocates agree that right now not all wireless products are secure enough for government use. Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association spokesman Travis Larson calls the DoDs move a necessary step. Larson says that all users should be securing their wireless applications, and if devices or systems are not secure, they should find a patch or limit use.