Search:  

 Blog     e-Newsletter       Resource Library      Directories      Webinars
AFCEA logo
 

Homeland Security

Top Information Technology Officials Peer into the Future

February 28, 2013
George I. Seffers

Top information technology officials from a variety of government agencies identified cloud computing, mobile devices and edge technologies as the technologies that will be critical for accomplishing their missions in the future.

Luke McCormack, chief information officer, Justice Department, cited cloud-as-a-service as vital to the future. He urged industry to continue to push the barriers of stack computing, and he mentioned edge technology as an emerging technology. “Edge is going to be really critical to perform missions,” he said. He cited the Google Glass project as an indicator of what the future will bring.

Mobility could be the future of training and simulation, suggested Sandy Peavy, chief information officer for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). She revealed that her office is putting together a pilot program introducing tablet computers into the training environment, and ideally, she would like trainees to be able to access simulation on the mobile device of their choice. Peavy also reported that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is providing special agents with iPhones and experimenting with other devices. “If I’m going to be able to provide just-in-time training, then mobile technology is the key.”

Richard Spires, chief information officer for the Department of Homeland Security, also cited mobility as a key future trend, but he also brought up metadata tagging, saying that it helps to understand the data itself and to establish rules for who sees what information. Metadata tagging is especially important as the department grapples with privacy concerns.

Cyber and Physical Protection are Intrinsically Linked

February 28, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The recently signed executive order on cybersecurity and the presidential directive on critical infrastructure protection are not separate documents. In fact, they are part of the same overall effort to protect the nation, said Rand Beers, undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Beers discussed the effort on Thursday at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

The two documents are “part and parcel of a whole of government and whole of society concept. The executive order is focused on cybersecurity, but the presidential policy directive takes the cybersecurity element and places it within the broader context of critical infrastructure protection in the sense that cyber and physical critical infrastructure are linked to one another,” Beers said. He added that a cyber attack that shuts down the electric grid could shut off access to water and to communications, which could affect the economy. “I’m not here to suggest cyber Armageddon is about to happen, but we have enough of a warning to understand that concerns about cybersecurity are not being overhyped.”

Beers revealed that the government is working to identify critical cyber nodes within the country, just as it has inventoried physical facilities that make up the nation’s critical infrastructure.

He added that the administration would still like Congress to pass cyber legislation. “We would still very much prefer legislation. We need to incentivize the private sector to take on the needed best practices,” Beers said. He suggested that legislation should include a safe harbor element providing liability protection to those in the private sector who adopt best practices but still suffer outages during a catastrophic event.

Intelligence Sharing and Cooperation Enable Homeland Security

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Homeland Security Conference 2013 Show Daily, Day 2

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the military, government and intelligence officials all agreed that federal agencies needed to be more willing and able to share critical data to better connect the dots.

While agencies at all levels—federal state and local—have made progress, officials continue to push for ever greater sharing and cooperation, not just within government but with industry and the general public as well. For example, while the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security can and do now share biometrics data housed in the disparate databases, they continue tweaking technology to improve data sharing even further.

But now, some officials argue for a greater partnership between government and industry in the area of cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection. A strong relationship with the local power company and willing volunteers can be essential to recovery following a national disaster. Even social media can play a role—tweets from the public can provide essential situational awareness about where fuel, food, electricity and water are available.

Intelligence sharing, interoperability, partnerships, relationships and cooperation were among the most commonly used terms among speakers and panelists during the second day of the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

DHS Faces Challenges in Move to Mobile

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Although the Department of Homeland Security is eyeing mobile technologies, the organization faces a number of challenges, revealed Shawn Lapinski, the chief interoperable architect for Department of Homeland Security Joint Wireless Program Office within the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, speaking at Wednesday's panel on mobile communications for homeland security at AFCEA's Homeland Security conference. 

DHS has a lot of interest in wireless broadband, in part, because the department has a number of law enforcement organizations that were brought together under one roof, bringing their individual networks with them. DHS maintains almost 20 independent networks with 120,000 tactical communications users across the nation. “We are talking about a number of law enforcement components inside of DHS trying to play together in the same sandbox,” Lapinski pointed out.

Much of that network technology was developed about two decades ago, Lapinski said, and it presents operational challenges. Many items are past their life expectancy. “Even though we are going through a modernization program, the standards were created almost 18 years ago, and when you’re playing catch-up after a decade and a half, you’re still a decade and a half behind,” he said. “Our coverage capacity, encryption issues and things we can share with partners at both the state and federal levels are impacted based upon the systems. Some of our systems still cannot offer compliant P25 capability.”

Network Federalism for Homeland Security

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The U.S. top-down, federal government-based national security model currently used to protect the nation is not the best model for homeland security. Instead, the country should adopt a decentralized model called "network federalism" that empowers state and local agencies and encourages them to work together to resolve security issues.

John Fass Morton, who wrote the book “Next-Generation Homeland Security: Network Federalism and the Course of National Preparedness,” presented the ideas in his book to the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C., during a lunchtime keynote address on Wednesday. He said the views are not his own but are instead the views of a broad range of homeland security experts who contributed.

“The national security system is a top-down, 20th century, industrial-aged governance model. The problem is that the federal-centric, homeland security governance system we have today is a single point of failure,” Morton said. “The present structures and processes fail to achieve unity of effort, and that is what is required. Unity of effort is critical, and that is very different from the national security model.”

Morton’s presentation drew several positive comments from audience members, some of whom suggested states working together in geographical regions could have be more effective than the federal government in responding to disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. One audience member suggested Morton talk to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

9/11 Attack Offers Lessons Learned for Broadband Interoperability

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), which is responsible for deploying the Nationwide Public Safety Network, could learn lessons from the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon, during which emergency responders experienced almost no interoperability problems, according to emergency management panelists at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, USNR (Ret.) mentioned FirstNet and its efforts to develop an interoperable broadband network for emergency management. “The promise of broadband is that we have the opportunity to invest in an interoperable system from inception,” he said, adding that the architecture is still not determined and interoperability is not a foregone conclusion.

He cited the response to the attack on the Pentagon as an example of interoperability that works. Adm. Barnett reminded the audience that the Pentagon roof, which was very old and insulated with a material made of horse hair, burned for three months following the attack. “Among the 13 agencies that responded, they had only one group that had trouble communicating.”

He added that the level of interoperability was achieved largely through close working relationships among the emergency responders. Those relationships were developed in the years prior to the attack.

“We can do the same thing on a public safety broadband network. We just have to make sure that the ultimate goal is that you end up with an interoperable network. Everything we have seen broadband bring to us—the various applications you have on your phone—can be available for public safety. And we really haven’t imagined it all,” he said. “It’s important to have the collaboration that the right kinds of communications systems enable. But if you don’t have the relationships that foster trust, it won’t matter what kind of electronics you have.”

National Fusion Centers Play Critical Role in Homeland Security

February 27, 2013
George I. Seffers

The National Network of Fusion Centers, developed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, are a vital part of the nation’s homeland security efforts, according to experts on the Intelligence and Information Sharing Panel at AFCEA’s Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C.

The fusion centers serve as the primary focal point for the receipt, gathering and sharing of threat-related information among federal, state, local, tribal and territorial partners. Although largely funded through federal homeland security grants, the centers are owned and operated by local entities.

Panelists described an environment where the need for fusion centers was identified and building began with little guidance. “We have seen tremendous progress made,” said Christian Beckner, former staff member on the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “Now, we have a broad national network playing a critical role in making the country safer.”

Scott McAllister, deputy undersecretary of intelligence and analysis for State and Local Program Office, Department of Homeland Security, pointed out that prior to the 9/11 attacks, local had no role in combating terrorism. Now, however, several thousand security clearances are issued at the local level.

Beckner explained that the fusion centers sometimes pass information up the chain to federal agencies, so information is being shared in both directions. Additionally, local and state experts can analyze and process information from a different point of view than federal employees, helping to fill intelligence gaps.

Security Concerns No Longer Drive Biometric Technologies

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Security concerns have largely driven advances in biometric technologies, but that likely will not be the case in the coming years. Commercial needs will overtake government security needs in determining the direction of biometrics, according to Troy Potter, vice president, Identity and Biometrics Solutions, Unisys Federal Systems, at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference on Wednesday.

“We’re looking at this change from a security focus to a convenience, automation and cost-savings focus. That’s driving the market today. Commercial organizations will drive the market for the next 10 years,” Potter stated.

He cited the example of a friend who has to provide a fingerprint scan when dropping off and picking up her child from the day care center. Potter said that while it may seem to be an effort to improve security, it actually is more motivated by cost savings and having a detailed record of exactly when children are picked up and dropped off. He also cited the example of social media sites using facial recognition.

Some systems, he pointed out, now require a 16-digit password and a large percentage of help desk calls are for password resets, making biometrics an attractive alternative. “The problem is, who is going to manage all of this,” he asked. “Do we trust the day care more than we trust the government?”

Next Generation Biometrics to be a Boon for Law Enforcement

February 27, 2013
By George I. Seffers

The FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) system will improve law enforcement’s capabilities as much as DNA analysis, according to Dave Cuthbertson, assistant director, Criminal Justice information Services Division, FBI.

The NGI advances the FBI’s biometric identification services, providing an incremental replacement of the current system while introducing new functionality. The NGI improvements and new capabilities are being introduced across a multiyear timeframe within a phased approach.

Increment three, which will be deployed in April, will improve accuracy in part by adding palm prints. About one-third of prints recovered from a crime scene are from the palm rather than the fingers, Cuthbertson reports, while serving on the Biometrics/Identity Management panel at AFCEA’s Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C. “NGI will be to crime solving almost like DNA processing,” he stated.

The agency already has implemented the first two increments, which increased accuracy from 92 percent to 99.6 percent. Additionally, increment two allows officers in the field to use mobile devices to send back biometric data to be checked against information in the repository.

The fourth and final increment will add more than 13 million mug shots, which will be matched against fingerprints. Cuthbertson said the facial system likely will not provide law enforcement with one definite match but will instead provide a list of possible matches, which law enforcement officials will then have to analyze and investigate further.

Eleven states currently participate in the system, and 13 are working toward participation.

Cyber and Physical Protection Go Together

February 26, 2013
By George I. Seffers

Homeland Security Conference 2013 Show Daily, Day 1

All too often, cyber and physical protection are considered separately, when really they go hand-in-hand, according to experts speaking at the first day of the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference in Washington, D.C., February 26, 2013. The conference opened with a half-day of conversation about hackers, terrorists and natural disasters and addressed concerns involving both physical infrastructure and the cyber environment for all kinds of attacks, be they physical, virtual or even natural in origin.

Richard Puckett, chief security architect for GE, drove home the point that physical infrastructure, such as power plants, have a cyber component. “People want to be able to walk around a power plant with an iPad. They want to attach remotely to these systems, because it is an incredibly powerful and attractive tool. It’s very visceral to them,” he said. “What we’re concerned about as we see those increased patterns of connectedness is how to protect that.”

Puckett emphasized that the relationship between cybersecurity and physical infrastructure was a focus of government and military, noting that the term "cyber" means a lot of different things to different people and for the private sector was more connotative of personal and financial cybersecurity.

Paige Atkins, vice president of cyber and information technology research, Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation, said that part of the problem is that cyber is a sometimes difficult concept. “Cyber is a little harder for us to understand and grasp because it is not as graphic," she said. "In my personal experience, the cyber-physical area is underappreciated and not fully understood.”

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Homeland Security