Nortel Sets Up VPN at Justice, Expands to States
Nortel Sets Up VPN at Justice, Expands to States<@VM>Nortel Networks Corp.
By Jennifer Freer, Staff Writer
Nortel Networks Inc. is using its expertise building a secure virtual private network for the Justice Department to win more business with state and local governments looking to improve interagency communication, company officials said.
The VPN that Nortel of Brampton, Ontario, built for the Justice Department allows the agency to share criminal profile information, such as fingerprints, photographs, biological data and arrest records, using an application called the Joint Automated Booking System, company officials said.
A VPN is a private communications network that can be run over a public network, such as the Internet, but only allows authorized users access to it, thus ensuring the privacy and security of the information and data being transmitted.
With its VPN, the Justice Department can collect, store and transmit information with its other agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Now, state agencies in Virginia and New York are doing the same ? and more.
"The market for VPNs on the state and local level is exceptionally large, especially since the FBI is connected to every police vehicle on the road," said Dan Pitton, former security programs manager for the Justice Department. He now works for the Energy Department. "More and more of the state agencies are moving to Web-based technology, and the use of VPNs is going to continue to increase throughout the law enforcement community."
VPNs are likely to gain acceptance in federal government as well as state and local agencies, said Kevin Plexico, vice president and chief technology officer at Input Inc., a market research firm in Chantilly, Va.
"I think this just points to the growing need for agencies at the federal and state and local level to communicate with each other and share data," he said. And the need for VPNs exists among agencies that deal with health care, transportation and taxation as well as law enforcement, he said.
Much of the data exchanged needs to be protected and transmitted securely, and VPNs provide a convenient way of accomplishing this, he added.
The city of New York, the Virginia departments of Transportation, Information Technology and Emergency Management, the city of Newport News, Va., and the Petersburg, Va., City School System are using Nortel's VPNs.
In Virginia, Nortel VPNs are helping state agencies replace old mainframe computers, supporting e-mail systems and providing remote access for field officers. With a VPN, they have a secure connection, said Paul Sumner, a systems engineer with Nortel.
The Virginia networks are used to share financial, human resources and inventory management information, he added. Schools are using the network to allow kids to connect to their networks for homework and assignments, he said.
The VPN was implemented at the Justice Department this spring under Sprint Corp.'s FTS2001 telecommunications contract with the General Services Administration, although the Justice Department was extremely cautious about sharing information in a secure manner, Pitton said. Nortel is a subcontractor on the deal to Sprint Corp. of Westwood, Kan.
VPNs have been relatively slow to gain acceptance in the federal government, Plexico said. Historically, the networks have been difficult to set up and cumbersome for individuals to use, but as the technology has evolved, the VPNs will play a greater role in the government's efforts to shore up security, he said.
Once the Justice Department felt comfortable with the network's security, it began to reap the benefits by using it to search multiple agency databases, eliminate duplicate paperwork, coordinate investigations better and access up-to-the-minute arrest warrant information from departments, said Ophir Gamliel, national account manager for Nortel Networks.
"The network provides trust," Pitton said. "The ability to assert and maintain the security is very important."
Other federal agencies are looking to VPNs to provide a secure network, and Nortel is also working with them to supply the infrastructure for VPNs, Gamliel said. The Internal Revenue Service is using Nortel's system for e-mail delivery throughout the country, and the Energy Department is planning to build a VPN.
The demand for VPNs is increasing, and Gamliel said he expects to see many other uses for Nortel's network other than sharing criminal information.
"I see it growing in demand in areas such as interagency communication, departmental communication and especially telecommuters in the government," he said.
The Justice Department also sees other areas where a VPN can be useful, Pitton said.
For example, the Justice Department has to process thousands of security clearance applications and background checks for new employees and contractors. The process is very labor intensive and can take weeks or months to complete, he added.
With a Web-based VPN, the security clearance forms can be filled out electronically and sent via e-mail instead of regular mail, Pitton said. It can help save time and money, he added.
Also, once the new president takes office, the Justice Department will need to recognize the new attorneys that will work with the agency and have access to its network, Pitton said.
"There is an expectation of remote connectivity to the [Justice Department] network, but that's not available," Pitton said. "The VPN can help efforts to standardize remote access to the DoJ."
VPNs are another tool in the security tool bag of the agencies, Plexico said. The networks offer a good way of providing secure access to protected resources.
"I would expect VPN uses to expand, I wouldn't expect it to expand any more rapidly than other security technologies available," Plexico said. "In fact, we're seeing many of these technologies being bundled together, such as firewalls that have VPN technology built into them."