GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT horizon.

by / May 1, 2002
Standard Intelligence

U.S. Rep. James Moran, D-Va., introduced a bill in February that would promulgate guidelines and set requirements for states to modernize drivers' licenses and the information systems behind them.

Moran sees states playing a key role in this effort.

"States have to issue [drivers' licenses]; states have to determine whether they want compatible drivers' licenses with other states; [and] states have to determine the extent to which they want to use this interoperability and compatible information," Moran said.

Moran said the goal of the bill is not to create a national ID card, but to make sure that when a person applies for a driver's license, the chances for fraud are eliminated.

"I want digital signatures and biometric information on the state ID cards," he said, adding that thumbprints are the likely choice for biometric information. "We're going to try to make up to $100 million available [to states]."

He said his legislative staff will spend a lot of time with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association to solicit input.

Moran said he got interested in the issue when he learned that four of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks obtained fraudulent drivers' licenses in Virginia. Though he believes a verifiable form of identification is crucial to national security, he expressed concern over the public's misconception of the issue.

At press time, Moran said the bill's language was nearly complete, though he was waiting to line up additional co-sponsors before formally introducing it.

Government Unplugged

City officials in Menlo Park, Calif., were looking at fixed wireless only as a cost-effective backup to their T1 line, but wound up replacing their wired connection to the Net entirely.

"We've shifted our philosophy," said Danny Daniels, systems and programming manager of Menlo Park. "We're using fixed wireless as the primary connection and our T1 as a back up."

Daniels said the cost of fixed wireless, at around $500 a month, is much cheaper than a T1 line, and the initial set-up costs were comparable.

All city agencies and the city's approximately 300 employees now access the Net via fixed wireless, Daniels said. He cited ease of use and lack of maintenance as other important factors behind the city's decision to go with fixed wireless.

"There's really no premise equipment, so in terms of configuring routers and whatnot, all the setup is handled by the ISP," he said. "They provide you with the telco box, and you interface directly with that."

Another California city, Dublin, also chose fixed wireless for Internet access for approximately 150 city employees.

Installation took less than a day, said Steve Pappa, information systems manager of Dublin.

"We paid about 50 percent more, previously, for a connection that was at 64K," he said. "What we have now is a minimum of 1Mbps, burstable to 2Mbps; it's like night and day, and we're paying about $250 [per] month less."

The city is saving money because, unlike before, it isn't paying to lease a T1 line and paying for Internet access.

Dublin switched to fixed wireless in December, Pappa said.

"We were skeptical," he said. "We went with a month-to-month agreement. We made them get the building permit and go through all the planning approvals, and they did all that and complied. Everybody is happy with the system so far."

Both cities are contracting with NextWeb for fixed wireless Internet access.

Protecting the Police

The East Orange, N.J., Police Department is testing a new information-security system for desktop PCs and mobile data terminals.

Police officers and other staff will use multi-application smart cards and key-fob tokens along with desktop digital-certificate-management software to keep departmental communications, files and computer systems secure.

At the police department's headquarters, more than 25 officers will use the key-fob tokens to log onto their workstations and authenticate themselves on the department's network. Users must identify themselves with two unique factors - something they know, a PIN, and something they have, the authenticating token - before they are granted access to confidential network resources.

The police department is also deploying multi-application smart cards to officers in the field. Each officer's digital identity is stored on a smart card, which will allow the officers to authenticate their identity before accessing the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Crime Information Center criminal database from a mobile data terminal.

The smart cards also protect digital credentials used to encrypt local files, secure Web and e-mail sessions and regulate access to buildings.

On the desktop side, police department personnel will test security features enabled by a sophisticated public key infrastructure. The desktop security tool supports several flexible methods of file encryption that are easy-to-use and fully integrated into the operating system via Windows Explorer.

Desktop-protected folders will give users the ability to transparently encrypt files by moving them into a protected folder. The tool makes it simpler for officers to encrypt files on the mobile data terminal and securely transmit sensitive information to and from the terminal in a squad car.

The police department is contracting with RSA Security to test the security tools.

A View from Above

Florida International University beefed up its TerraFly database with a deal with IBM in February. TerraFly is a project of the university's High-Performance Database Research Center.

TerraFly, which debuted last November, is one of the largest publicly accessible databases on the Web. Users can visit the TerraFly Web site to see an overhead view of virtually any location in the United States based on images collected by the U.S. Geological Survey and other sources.

The university's goal is to make mapping data available for the entire world within five years, and university officials anticipate that TerraFly will ultimately manage more than 20 terabytes of data.

The university will also work with a diverse group of industries that want to use TerraFly, and officials estimate TerraFly will generate up to $1 billion in annual revenue for the university.

TerraFly's data-integration capacities will allow an industry to customize GIS data with graphic overlays that contain information specific to their industry. Realtors could overlay information about property values, neighborhood demographics and proximity of shops and schools, producing a comprehensive visual database tailored to the needs of their home-shopping clientele.

The university will run IBM's DB2 database software running on Linux to power the High Performance Database Research Center.