Defense Transformation Banner
 
Team Pushes 'Smart' Process, Culture Change

An Electronic Systems Center team is working to save time, money and tons of material,
all while increasing security when America's most sensitive information is distributed.

By Chuck Paone / Electronic Systems Center Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass., March 20, 2006 – An Electronic Systems Center team is working to save time, money and tons of material, all while increasing security when America's most sensitive information is distributed.

The Cryptologic Systems Group, located at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, is working hard to institute an electronic "key" process that would ultimately render the current labor- and material-intensive process obsolete. The effort is known as the Air Force Electronic Key Management System.

"Electronic keys can be requested, generated and distributed electronically; and they can be accounted for electronically, which is important, since this is very sensitive information we're dealing with."

Tri Pham, program manager

The simplified version of how information encryption works is that unencrypted, or 'red,' data is entered into a crypto box from which it emerges as 'black,' encrypted data. The data cannot be deciphered except by someone who holds the right key, said Tri Pham, the program manager.

Those who need and have legitimate access to the information must enter it into another box at the receiving location. There they must also enter an identical key to the one generated at the transmission site to decode the message.

Today, in nine out of 10 cases, Pham said, these all-important keys are still made from paper tape, which is delivered in canisters and coded by hole punching.

"Using paper tape carries several disadvantages," Pham said. "There are literally tons of material involved, for one thing, as well as all the labor needed to generate and deliver the tapes. It's also less secure because you have couriers and others involved in the handling of the material, which means it could potentially be compromised."

In contrast, electronic keys composed of binary code – streams of ones and zeros – require none of the material and take less time to generate. They also provide much more security, since there's no physical product involved.

"Electronic keys can be requested, generated and distributed electronically; and they can be accounted for electronically, which is important, since this is very sensitive information we're dealing with," Pham said.

On material alone, the U.S. National Distribution Authority shipped 74,000 fewer pounds of materials to the Air Force in 2005 because of electronic key conversions to date. This equates to a savings of $408,000.

Given these efficiency and security gains, the 10 percent usage number may seem low. But as with any new technology, acceptance always takes awhile. "We need to change the culture," Pham said.

While working to do that, his Cryptologic Systems Group team continues to push the technology evolution. Next up is a continuation of the program known as Key Management Infrastructure.

This infrastructure will allow automatic generation and attainment of keys, saving even more time, said Brent Washam, who is leading the modernization effort for Electronic Systems Center.

"This is the next generation of key distribution architecture," Washam said. "It will enable the capability to transmit key on the Global Information Grid to new net-centric crypto boxes."

When this occurs, boxes will "know" they are on the network and will be able to send information about their status and receive commands. By 2013, key architecture will include information that allows a crypto box on the net to know when a key is meant for it.

While the Cryptologic Systems Group team is leading the technology effort, there are many other players on the team. They include representatives from the Army, the Navy and the National Security Agency.

Together, they hope to increase the current 10 percent-usage figure to 40 percent by Fiscal Year '08, Pham said. Ultimately, they hope to make use of this smart process universal for U.S. defense and civil agencies that handle sensitive, encrypted data.

"When you consider how many advantages there are to using electronic keys, you realize this process change is not only smart but absolutely essential, " said Col. Jerry Corley, who served as Cryptologic Systems Group commander until his retirement March 20. "I'm very proud of our team for the great strides they've made so far and for their persistence in moving all of this forward."

DoD Homepage War on Terror News Products Press Resources Images Contact Us
Nov. 27, 2014
Search
  SPECIAL REPORTS
  Defense Transformation Banner