Agencies buying up field-ready computers, security technology

The federal government's appetite for portable, wireless Internet products and information security software has grown in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, leading technology contractors and purchasers said Thursday. Terri Allen, senior vice president of sales for technology reseller GTSI, said that since Sept. 11, federal agencies have ordered up "ruggedized" computers with high-speed wireless Internet access that can be deployed into remote locations at a moment's notice and then be extracted and moved to another site. The computers are designed to keep working despite intense physical punishment. Allen said she's seen the biggest increase in the wireless products category. Demand is particularly high for the handheld BlackBerry wireless e-mail device. Allen noted that, for agencies, such technologies have changed from "a nice-to-have [to] a must-have." Air Force Col. Neal Fox, director of the agency's Commercial Information Technology Product Area Directorate (CIT-PAD), which runs the "IT Superstore," said that after a period of frugality following the Sept. 11 attacks, his customers decided to "loosen up" with their IT spending and are now buying ruggedized notebook computers. Ross Pickus, vice president of business development for software manufacturer Computer Associates, said many requests are coming in for the company's information security software. Computer Associates has also seen higher demand for data storage and disaster recovery products, he said. Defense and intelligence agencies constitute a major portion of the company's customer base. Asked if the security business is healthier now because of the terrorist attacks, Computer Associates' Pickus said, "Unfortunately, it is." Technology market watcher Federal Sources Inc. (FSI) has predicted that the spending growth rate on "information assurance" products and services will rocket past overall federal IT budget growth, clocking a 19 percent compound annual growth rate from now until fiscal 2004, compared with the overall rate of 5 percent. The biggest growth will be seen in security services. FSI reported that agencies spent $630 million on security products and almost $1.1 billion on services in fiscal 2001. By fiscal 2004, the firm said, product spending will rise to $870 million and spending on services will nearly double to $2 billion. The government continued to fund electronic security efforts this week when the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded $5 million in funding for nine research grants to ensure the security of electrical grids, air traffic control systems and other critical infrastructures throughout the United States. NIST made the awards under the under the Critical Infrastructure Protection Grants Program, which offers grant money for projects designed to protect critical infrastructure in the private sector. The money will also help secure computer and telecommunications systems. Building on a long history of work to develop a security system that's usable on a wide range of disparate operating systems, the National Security Agency's Information Assurance Research Office has made available for download a security-enhanced Linux system that allows programs to run under tight access controls. The system should now be able to thwart attempts to tamper with or bypass security mechanisms by implanting mandatory access controls into the operating system's nerve center.
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