Mandated 'smart cards' affect tech contractors

Under a new homeland security directive, all government workers must authenticate their identities with "smart cards" before performing simple tasks like faxing or scanning documents over e-mail. The move has forced major manufacturers of printers, scanners, facsimile machines, copiers and peripheral software to either accommodate smart-card readers or lose government customers.

In October, agencies had to start issuing standard IDs for all employees and contractors to use in accessing any government facility or anything connected to a government computer network. Typically, employees must enter an access card and personal ID number. The card reader then checks the data with a directory on the agency's server before granting the employee permission to enter the facility or operate the machine.

While some agencies have outfitted many facilities and desktop computers with smart-card access, Enrique Barkey, the director of public sector and education for Hewlett-Packard's worldwide global enterprise organization, said "the weakest link from a security perspective is in the printing and imaging environment."

At the Defense Department, HP is deploying smart-card-ready printers, which contain an HP card reader and software that can communicate with the agency to confirm user IDs. "Other agencies are waiting to see what happens with the DOD," Barkey said Monday.

For HP, the security directive served as "a great opportunity in terms of revenue but also a threat" in terms of losing existing government customers, Barkey said.

Ricoh, another government vendor, spent two years creating new drivers for essentially its entire multifunction printer line to meet the new security specifications, said John Thiessen, Ricoh's product manager for secure products.

Master Sgt. David Parella, who is with the Massachusetts National Guard but was sharing only his opinions when he spoke to Technology Daily, said he has had positive experiences with eCopy scanning software that was modified to meet the smart-card requirements.

In the past, eCopy's station accessories had let him scan documents into e-mails by replicating the e-mail account he uses at his desktop. The new model incorporates a card reader, multi-function printer, eCopy's software, a keyboard and a touch screen, enabling him to comply with the new directive and still scan paper originals directly into network applications.

Parella said the verification process takes 12-15 seconds once he enters his ID number. The scanning station then automatically launches his e-mail account so he can scan to e-mail or a drive on the agency's network. Such mobility made it possible for Parella to scan and send needed documents to "forward deployed" soldiers.

Bill DeStefanis, director of product management for eCopy, said his company relied on unfettered access to the Massachusetts National Guard's hardware during the development process. "We had to work on site to verify that it worked in a live environment," he said. "We don't have [common access] cards, so we can't plug in a CAC card and try it."

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