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Tech. Sgt. Wendi Davis, 35th Communications Squadron operations controller, resets a smart-card PIN. Military bases in the Pacific are working to get computer networks and users in compliance with smart-card technology.
Tech. Sgt. Wendi Davis, 35th Communications Squadron operations controller, resets a smart-card PIN. Military bases in the Pacific are working to get computer networks and users in compliance with smart-card technology. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

Computer passwords soon will be history at U.S. military bases in the Pacific. The Defense Department has set a goal of July 31 for mandatory logon with the military’s Common Access Card.

The ID card with a gold computer chip has been issued to millions of DOD personnel.

To meet the deadline, Pacific bases are stepping up efforts to ensure that all authorized government computer network users have a functioning identification card and card reader and that a public-key infrastructure is in place to support the system.

Also called a “smart card,” the palm-sized plastic holds electronic data, letting users digitally sign e-mail messages, encrypt information and log on to their computer terminals with a personal identification number and card reader. DOD officials say the system will prevent hackers from intercepting computer passwords.

Bases began issuing the cards and readers several years ago, but military officials said the services have had no mandatory deadline to start using the technology.

That changed Jan. 17, when Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations ordered a DOD-wide implementation speed-up. The task force directs the DOD’s Global Information Grid operation.

A Jan. 23 report in Government Computer News attributes the speed-up to cyberthreats to military computer networks.

Using the new ID cards “will enhance the security of DOD information systems,” task force spokesman Tim Madden was quoted in a statement as saying.

“The department has been issuing smart cards with PKI identify credentials and purchasing smart card readers for several years, so most of the investment in infrastructure has been made.”

Naval Base Guam officials said the system already is in full use there and all personnel who use the DOD network are required to use their card readers.

That’s not the case at most bases, although all who responded to queries said they plan to be ready on time.

“We’re on schedule to meet the deadline,” said Sgt. 1st Class N. Maxfield, Camp Zama spokesman. Every computer account holder at U.S. Army Japan and U.S. Army Garrison Japan will have a card reader, he said.

At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, all the computer servers are ready to support the smart-card logon while the base works to ensure everyone has a card with a working PIN and a reader, said Maj. Bill Poirier, Misawa’s 35th Communications Squadron commander.

Of more than 4,000 accounts at Misawa, “we’ve already enabled over 1,300,” he said. “We’ve done this in a very short period of time. We’re well ahead of schedule.”

He said some challenges include people forgetting PINs or identification certificates embedded in the gold-colored computer chips loaded at previous bases.

“You could have gotten a card two years ago,” Poirier said. “If you’ve never really used that PIN, you’re going to forget it.”

Servicemembers still will be able to use their user name and login until at least July 31, even if their card is enabled, he said.

Pacific Air Forces and DOD are assessing how to handle remote logons to the network through Outlook Web, he said.

Leo Shane III and Juliana Gittler contributed to this story.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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