New smart card might replace CAC

The Army recently invented a device that could one day replace the current Common Access Card, according to the engineers from Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center who developed it. | U.S. Army illustration

WASHINGTON— The Army recently invented a device that could one day replace the current Common Access Card or CAC, according to engineers from the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, who are developing it.

But the device, which might take the form of a card or something else such as a dog tag, could do much more than provide access and authentication for getting inside buildings, installations, computers, and securely store data. It could possibly help save lives as well, said Bill Toth.

The card was so unique that a U.S. patent was granted for it last year, said Toth, Secure Voice technical lead for the CERDEC Space and Terrestrial Directorate, Cyber Security and Information Assurance Division, Cryptographic Modernization Branch at APG.

What it does

Toth, who is an electronics engineer, said the card may be used to act as a “security token” to access various levels of sensitive and non-sensitive information.” That means that the information contained in the card can be shared with other Soldiers, Army contractors and civilians who have been granted access to its contents.

The beauty of this is that the information contained in the card can be compartmentalized in a “need-to-know” manner, he said. For instance, a medic could access medical data, but a contractor might not for privacy concerns, depending on who the Army deems has a “need to know.” Access is controlled by the credentials presented by the person attempting to write to or retrieve data from within the card.

In this particular example, having instant access to a Soldier’s medical data might make the difference in saving his or her life, Toth added. So this does much more than a CAC card.

We were told years ago that injured Soldiers on the battlefield received morphine and the medic would, literally, put a sticky note on them saying this person was administered morphine at such and such a time, Toth said. If the note fell off, another medic might come by and give another shot of morphine, and the Soldier would overdose. The new smart card would do away with such antiquated procedures.

Another application might apply to a forward observer who has acquired a large amount of intelligence data about the enemy, but cannot transmit it back to friendly forces because he or she doesn’t want to compromise their position by providing adversaries with the radio-frequency signature, Toth said.

In that case, the information could be downloaded to the smart card, where it would be stored securely via encryption, he said. Even if the card is lost, the data remains protected within the card since it’s encrypted. That’s very important, Toth pointed out.

Another asset of the card is that it can be used for control of access to networks or physical locations, he said. For an example of the latter, a commander could determine who is allowed access within his or her sector based on the information on the card, and he can also allow specific individuals to go from point A to point B. This would provide enhanced security for the force.

How it works

The card can function as a “secure container of encrypted keys and secure data, or as a short-range communications device with the capability to communicate securely with a computer, a personal electronic device, or a network in a wireless capacity via Bluetooth or Near-Field Communications technology to pass credentials or data,” Toth said.

Furthermore, the card “can restrict access to sensitive containerized information by way of password protection or biometric recognition and is planned to be powered by various methods including solar energy,” he said. The card will use solar energy to charge its internal battery when an external power source is not available for charging.

“A secure token that the card affords, allows you to do multifactor authentication,” he said. The authentication method may include voice recognition, fingerprint scanning, or other biometric recognition. Some laptops and smartphones have fingerprint scanners, but nothing on that scale,” he elaborated.

Since they are Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) based, the cards can be tailored for specific applications. Additional memory will be included within the card providing the capability to securely store large amounts of data.

Timeline

A prototype of the card is now in development, Toth said. The target is to have a working prototype by the spring of 2017. The final design is up to the Army. Besides a card or dog tag, it might even be woven into the fabric of a uniform.

According to Toth, once the prototype comes out, user testing would follow. For instance, a proof of concept to replace existing CACs with the invention for use with laptops or other devices may be performed. The prototype is targeted to provide multi-factor authentication via a Personal Identification Number (PIN) and fingerprints, which may be used to define role- based access control of applications and files.

The card can potentially be used Government-wide for both civilians as well as members of the military, he said.

Civilian entities that would find this particularly useful include law enforcement, the medical community, manufacturing, the financial industry, or any other entity needing access control or the ability to store and retrieve data securely, he noted.

For instance, in the medical field medical data could be entered on the card so that a person going into surgery has information such as which part of the body needs to be operated on, medication requirements, allergies, and so forth. In the past, mistakes have been made by bad handwriting or miscommunications. This would make the procedure much less prone to error, Toth said.

The inventors listed on the Multi-Function Smart Communication Card patent are, in order: Bill Toth, Stanley Fong, Todd Lutton, Uday Shenvi, Ghanshyam Dave, and Matthew Lazzaro.

Story by David Vergun, Army News Service