FAA CIO on Converging Security

The Federal Aviation Administration has put encryption software on 20,000 laptops in an effort to protect personally identifiable information, the agency's chief information officer said yesterday.

FAA CIO David Bowen said securing the personal identities of agency employees is a top priority. Last summer Bowen said he talked to senior agency officials about keeping laptops, on which is stored personal information, from "walking out of the building." Because it was difficult for the FAA to determine which computers had stored sensitive information, the IT department decided to encrypt all the data on laptops.

Bowen, who was speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Reston, Va.-based market research firm INPUT, also said the FAA will work to comply with the governmentwide mandate for implementing a new employee identification system, known as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which requires agencies to provide employees with a common identification card that can be used everywhere, from access to buildings to access to computers. Managing the huge effort (an estimated 5 million cards must be handed out) has been challenging for agencies.

"One of the ways we protect our systems is through physical security," Bowen said. "Our intent is to very aggressively deploy the card for physical access and replace our physical access in all of those locations."

The agency has 1,122 business sites, all of which are considered secure locations. The FAA manages the security of those sites from a physical (buildings) and cyber (information and computers) approach. (That management approach is known as convergence.)

Bowen also said that in response to a question from the Transportation Department Inspector General about what the FAA would do if one of its control centers was no longer operational, the agency began studying how to set up a backup facility at the agency's Williams J. Hughes Technical Center near Atlantic City, N.J. " In this new world, we can control air traffic from almost anywhere," Bowen said.