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'Smart Card' Technology Enhances Readiness, Security

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2002 – Implementation of "smart card" technology across DoD by 2003 will enable the department to deploy troops faster and safeguard its people and facilities better, the card's program manager said March 5.

DoD's Common Access Card is a plastic identification card with an embedded 32-kilobyte memory chip, said Mary Dixon, director of the DoD Access Card Office. The card has already been issued at many stateside and overseas locales, and about this time next year, 4 million active-duty military, selected reservists, DoD civilians and eligible contractor employees are expected to have them, she noted.

The card and stored data can be tied into computer networks for personnel actions and added security. It has proven its worth in speeding troop processing times during recent testing at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Dixon noted. The 25th Infantry Division troops there used to have to spend one or more days preparing for deployments using paper records, she said.

The cards reduced deployment processing times to about an hour or two for each individual who took part in the test, Dixon remarked. And besides getting troops to the front faster, she noted, Common Access Cards could save time in a number of other ways.

"We're returning that time to the units -- they can use it for training," she explained.

Security concerns across DoD have been greatly heightened because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dixon noted. Widespread use of smart card technology for identification purposes will also enhance DoD's security infrastructure, she noted.

Personal identification numbers today, and biometric data such as fingerprints in the future, can be contained on the card, making it much more secure than paper IDs, Dixon said.

"There is a one-in-a-million chance that you might guess a person's six-digit PIN," she explained, adding that the card automatically locks up to deny access after receiving three incorrect PINs.

Widespread use of Common Access Cards should bolster security for DoD's people, buildings and facilities, Dixon noted. The new technology, she added, also allows a "one- card-fits-all" system, so IDs, Public Key Infrastructure tokens, and multiple security passes could be melded onto one card.

Unlike easily duplicated paper ID cards, common access cards -- with their one-of-a-kind computer chips and embedded biometric data -- can facilitate secure access into a sophisticated computer security network, Dixon explained.

If a common access card is lost or stolen, she noted, the identification and security accesses on the card can be invalidated immediately. Biometric information already in the card's computer database, she added, would be checked when a request is made for a replacement card.

Issuance of Common Access Cards contains myriad checks and balances to ensure integrity, Dixon noted. A fraudulently issued card might conceivably get past security officials at first, but definitely not for long, she said.

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