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Deadline Could Spur Smart Cards

HSPD-12 requires unified government credentials - deployments serve as a proving ground

U.S. federal agencies are gearing up to deploy new, standards-based smart card technology that could soon be an attractive option for large enterprises as well.

Agencies are making changes in their building security systems today in an effort to meet the October compliance deadline for Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-12, Policy for a Common Identification Standard for Federal Employees and Contractors. HSPD-12 requires that all government agencies adopt strict policies to identify and credential employees and contractors, and to issue a secure electronic credential, which will take the form of a smart card that shares a common format across all agencies.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, working with the U.S. Department of Commerce, developed the guidelines for the smart card technology under its NIST Personal Identification Validation Program (NPIVP) program. Compliance with the processes and technical requirements, which are defined in FIPS-201-1, Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors, is required by October.

Smart cards, experts say, have a number of advantages over other types of security credentials. They can carry multiple identities and other data in a portable form factor, and they can be used for both physical and electronic access. But the technology is not simple or cheap to deploy, so agencies are "trying to work through a viable, cost effective rollout," says David Troy, practice leader for identity management at Electronic Data Systems (EDS).

While the agencies are taking some arrows during their HSPD-12 projects, their large-scale deployments of the technology should help the private sector, Troy said. "HSPD-12 is accelerating convergence within the security industry itself. Functionally and organizationally, the security industry landscape is changing rapidly to meet this new market. Secondly, because so many federal government employees and contractors will be using this new standard, the private sector will most likely adopt it, or a form of it, as well."

Enterprises will also benefit from the lessons learned by the agencies as they deploy the HSPD-12 technology, Troy observed.

Capital costs for the technology probably won't drop, however. Randy Vanderhoof, Executive Director of the Smart Card Alliance, doesn't expect the prices of smart card and support systems to fall as a result of HSPD-12: "The supporting systems will be more feature-rich at the same price points," he says, "and systems that don't support smart cards today will evolve into ones that do."

— Mike Fratto, Editor at Large, Dark Reading

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) (NYSE: EDS)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • Smart Card Alliance

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