Army Turning to Wearables to Improve Network Access

The Army Futures Command (AFC) is currently developing new wearable identity authentication and authorization technologies, according to an Aug. 7 press release.

The wearables will “enable soldiers to securely access network-based capabilities while operating on the move in contested, threat-based environments.”

The release explained that since 2001 the government has used the Common Access Card (CAC) as its standard for network and system security access control. However, the CACs are not “operationally suited for use in every environment.” Moreover, the release said that the “Army lacks a standard way for Soldiers at every echelon to prove their identity when operating systems, devices and applications on Army networks.”

As a solution to this problem, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCCDC), a major subordinate command of AFC, is in the process of researching and developing new technologies that will not only provide a secure way for soldiers to identify, authenticate, and be authorized access to Army networks, operating systems, servers, laptops, applications, web services, radios, weapon systems, and handheld devices, but also a way that will simplify the process.

AFC explained that the tokens are “wireless, lightweight, flexible and rugged, and they can be inserted in a soldier’s pocket, attached to a sleeve, or integrated into a wristband like a Fitbit. Conceptually, soldiers wearing these tokens could simply approach a system to login, be recognized by that system, which would then prompt the soldier to enter a PIN or use a biometric as a second factor, and be automatically logged out when they walk out of the system’s range.”

“The Army is driving towards a simpler and intuitive tactical network, so we’re aligning our science and technology resources to explore the challenges associated with this mission space, inform senior decision-makers of the lessons learned and deliver capabilities that support army modernization and address the soldier’s needs – now and in the future,” Brian Dempsey, Tactical Network Protection chief for the C5ISR Center’s Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, said.

The wearables will take some cues from the CACs, such as using a public key-based credential to ensure security. But they will also add-in “cutting-edge advances in the commercial wireless payment industry and flexible hybrid electronics,” according to project lead for the Tactical Identity and Access Management program.

“Soldiers should not have to take out a smartcard, insert it into a card reader and then remember to remove the card from the reader when they are done,” said Okwudishu, project lead for the Tactical Identity and Access Management program. “Contactless identity tokens are not only easy to use, they provide a significant cost savings for the Army. You can continue to add authentication capabilities without needing to redesign, or deploy new, tactical hardware to every laptop, server, handheld device or weapon system in the field.”

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