Electronic Government: Challenges to the Adoption of Smart Card Technology

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-09-09.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Subcommittee on Technology,
                             Information Policy, Intergovernmental
                             Relations and the Census, Committee on
                             Government Reform, House of Representatives
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT
Tuesday, September 9, 2003   ELECTRONIC
                             Challenges to the Adoption
                             of Smart Card Technology
                             Statement of Joel C. Willemssen
                             Managing Director, Information Technology Issues

                                                  September 2003

                                                  ELECTRONIC GOVERNMENT

                                                  Challenges to the Adoption of Smart Card
Highlights of GAO-03-1108T, a testimony           Technology
before the Subcommittee on Technology,
Information Policy, Intergovernmental
Relations and the Census, Committee on
Government Reform, House of

The federal government is                         To successfully implement smart card systems, agency managers have faced
increasingly interested in the use of             a number of substantial challenges:
smart cards—credit-card–like                      •   sustaining executive-level commitment in the face of organizational
devices that use integrated circuit                   resistance and cost concerns;
chips to store and process data—                  •   obtaining adequate resources for projects that can require extensive
for improving the security of its
many physical and information
                                                      modifications to technical infrastructures and software;
assets. Besides better                            •   integrating security practices across agencies, a task requiring
authentication of the identities of                   collaboration among separate and dissimilar internal organizations;
people accessing buildings and                    •   achieving smart card interoperability across the government; and
computer systems, smart cards                     •   maintaining the security of smart card systems and the privacy of
offer a number of potential benefits                  personal information.
and uses, such as creating                        These difficulties may be less formidable as management concerns about
electronic passenger lists for                    facility and information system security increase and as technical advances
deploying military personnel, and                 improve smart card capabilities and reduce costs. However, such challenges,
tracking immunization and other                   which have slowed the adoption of this technology in the past, continue to
medical records.                                  be factors in smart card projects.
Earlier this year, GAO reported on
the use of smart cards across the                 Given the significant management and technical challenges associated with
federal government (GAO-03-144).                  successful adoption of smart cards, a series of initiatives has been
GAO was asked to testify on the                   undertaken to facilitate the adoption of the technology. As the federal
results of this work, including the               government’s designated promoter of smart card technology, GSA assists
challenges to successful adoption                 agencies in assessing the potential of smart cards and in implementation.
of smart cards throughout the                     GSA has set up a governmentwide, standards-based contracting vehicle and
federal government, as well as the                has established interagency groups to work on procedures, standards, and
government’s progress in                          guidelines. As the government’s policymaker, OMB is beginning to develop a
promoting this smart card                         framework of policy guidance for governmentwide smart card adoption. In a
adoption.                                         July 2003 memorandum, OMB described a three-part initiative on
                                                  authentication and identity management in the government, consisting of
                                                  (1) developing common policy and technical guidance; (2) executing a
                                                  governmentwide acquisition of authentication technology, including smart
                                                  cards; and (3) selecting shared service providers for smart card technology.
                                                  These efforts address the need for consistent, up-to-date standards and
                                                  policy on smart cards, but both GSA and OMB still have much work to do
                                                  before common credentialing systems can be successfully implemented
                                                  across government agencies.

                                                  A Typical Smart Card (not to scale)


To view the full testimony, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Joel
Willemssen at (202) 512-6222 or
             Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

             I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Subcommittee’s hearing
             regarding the benefits of, and challenges to, the successful adoption of
             smart cards across the federal government. Smart cards are plastic
             devices—about the size of a credit card—that use integrated circuit chips
             to store and process data, much like a computer.1 This processing
             capability distinguishes these cards from traditional magnetic stripe cards,
             which cannot interact with automated information systems. In January of
             this year, we reported that smart cards offer a variety of benefits to the
             federal government, such as better authentication of cardholders’
             identities, increased security over buildings, more effective safeguards of
             computer systems and data, and more accurate and efficient financial and
             nonfinancial transactions.2 However, challenges to the successful adoption
             of smart cards throughout the federal government need to be addressed
             before the benefits of their use can be fully realized.

             As requested, in my remarks today, I will discuss the potential benefits
             that the use of smart cards can offer, the challenges to successful adoption
             of smart cards throughout the federal government, and the progress of the
             General Services Administration (GSA), the Office of Management and
             Budget (OMB), and other agencies in overcoming these challenges and
             promoting governmentwide adoption of smart cards.

             As you know, technology plays an important role in helping the federal
Background   government provide security for its many physical and information assets.
             Today, federal employees are issued a wide variety of identification (ID)
             cards, which are used to access federal buildings and facilities, sometimes
             solely on the basis of visual inspection by security personnel. These cards
             often cannot be used for other important identification purposes—such as
             gaining access to an agency’s computer systems—and many can be easily
             forged or stolen and altered to permit access by unauthorized individuals.
             In general, the ease with which traditional ID cards—including credit

              The term “smart card” may also be used to refer to cards with a computer chip that only
             stores information without providing any processing capability. Such cards, known as
             stored-value cards, are widely used for services such as prepaid telephone service or
             satellite television reception. This statement focuses chiefly on cards with processing
              U.S. General Accounting Office, Electronic Government: Progress in Promoting Adoption
             of Smart Card Technology, GAO-03-144 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 3, 2003).

             Page 1                                                                     GAO-03-1108T
cards—can be forged has contributed to increases in identity theft and
related security and financial problems for both individuals and

Smart cards can readily be tailored to meet the varying needs of federal
agencies or to accommodate previously installed systems. For example,
other media—such as magnetic stripes, bar codes, and optical memory
(laser-readable) stripes—can be added to smart cards to support
interactions with existing systems and services or to provide additional
storage capacity. An agency that has been using magnetic stripe cards for
access to certain facilities could migrate to smart cards that would work
with both its existing magnetic stripe readers as well as new smart card
readers. Of course, the functions provided by the card’s magnetic stripe,
which cannot process transactions, would be much more limited than
those supported by the card’s integrated circuit chip. Optical memory
stripes (which are similar to the technology used in commercial compact
discs) can be used to equip a card with a large memory capacity for storing
more extensive data—such as color photos, multiple fingerprint images, or
other digitized images—and for making that card and its stored data very
difficult to counterfeit.4 Figure 1 shows a typical example of a smart card.

Figure 1: A Typical Smart Card

 See U.S. General Accounting Office, Identity Theft: Available Data Indicate Growth in
Prevalence and Cost, GAO-02-424T (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 14, 2002).
Cards with an optical memory stripe are known as laser cards or optical memory cards.

Page 2                                                                    GAO-03-1108T
Smart cards are grouped into two major classes: contact cards and
“contactless” cards. Contact cards have gold-plated contacts that connect
directly with the read/write heads of a smart card reader when the card is
inserted into the device. Contactless cards contain an embedded antenna
and work when the card is waved within the magnetic field of a card
reader or terminal. Contactless cards are better suited for environments
where quick interaction between the card and reader is required, such as
high-volume physical access. For example, the Washington Metropolitan
Area Transit Authority has deployed an automated fare collection system
using contactless smart cards as a way of speeding patrons’ access to the
Washington, D.C., subway system. Smart cards can be configured to
include both contact and contactless capabilities, but two separate
interfaces are needed, because standards for the technologies are very

Page 3                                                        GAO-03-1108T
Figure 2: Features That May Be Incorporated into Smart Cards

Since the 1990s, the federal government has considered the use of smart
card technology as one option for electronically improving security over
buildings and computer systems. In 1996, OMB tasked GSA with taking the
lead in facilitating a coordinated interagency management approach for
the adoption of multiapplication smart cards across government. At the
time, OMB envisioned broad adoption of smart card technology
throughout the government, as evidenced by the President’s budget for
fiscal year 1998, which set a goal of enabling every federal employee
ultimately to be able to use one smart card for a wide range of purposes,
including travel, small purchases, and building access. In January 1998, the
President’s Management Council and the Electronic Processing Initiatives

Page 4                                                         GAO-03-1108T
                       Committee5 (EPIC) established an implementation plan for smart cards
                       that called for a governmentwide, multiapplication card that would
                       support a range of functions—including controlling access to government
                       buildings—and operate as part of a standardized system. More recently,
                       the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 called
                       for enhancing national security and counterterrorism efforts by using
                       technologies such as smart cards that could provide biometric comparison
                       and authentication to better identify individuals entering the country.6

                       In developing this testimony, our objectives were to explain the potential
                       benefits of smart cards, to discuss the challenges to successful adoption of
                       smart cards, and to discuss the steps that federal agencies have taken to
                       address those challenges. To address these objectives, we obtained
                       relevant documentation and interviewed officials from GSA and the
                       Department of the Interior. We also analyzed agencies’ accomplishments
                       and planned activities to promote smart cards in light of the challenges to
                       smart card adoption across the federal government that we identified in
                       our January report. We performed our work between August 2003 and
                       September 2003, in accordance with generally accepted auditing

                       The unique properties and capabilities of smart cards offer the potential to
Smart Cards Can        significantly improve the security of federal buildings, systems, data, and
Provide a Variety of   transactions. For example, the process of verifying the identity of people
                       accessing federal buildings and computer systems, especially when used in
Benefits to Federal    combination with other technologies, such as biometrics, is significantly
Agencies               enhanced with the use of smart cards. Since 1998, multiple smart card
                       projects have been launched in the federal government, addressing an
                       array of capabilities and providing many tangible and intangible benefits,
                       including enhancing security over buildings and other facilities,
                       safeguarding computer systems and data, and conducting financial and
                       nonfinancial transactions more accurately and efficiently. Other potential

                        EPIC, an interagency body, was established during the 1990s to help improve the delivery
                       of electronic commerce activities across government and to assist the President’s
                       Management Council on such issues. In 2000, EPIC was replaced by the Electronic
                       Government Coordinating Committee.
                        Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 (P.L. No. 107-173, 116 Stat.

                       Page 5                                                                     GAO-03-1108T
                       benefits and uses include creating electronic passenger lists for deploying
                       military personnel and tracking immunization and other medical records.

                       The advantage of smart cards—as opposed to cards with simpler
                       technology, such as magnetic stripes or bar codes—is that smart cards can
                       exchange data with other systems and process information rather than
                       simply serving as static data repositories. By securely exchanging
                       information, a smart card can help authenticate the identity of the
                       individual possessing the card in a far more rigorous way than is possible
                       with simpler, traditional ID cards.

                       Even stronger authentication can be achieved if smart cards are used in
                       conjunction with biometrics. Smart cards can be configured to store
                       biometric information (such as fingerprints or iris scans) in electronic
                       records that can be retrieved and compared with an individual’s live
                       biometric scan as a means of verifying that person’s identity in a way that
                       is difficult to circumvent. A system requiring users to present a smart card,
                       enter a password, and verify a biometric scan provides what security
                       experts call “three-factor” authentication, the three factors being
                       “something you possess” (the smart card), “something you know” (the
                       password), and “something you are” (the biometric). Systems employing
                       three-factor authentication are considered to provide a relatively high level
                       of security.7

Several Agencies Are   As of November 2002, 18 agencies had reported initiating a total of 62
Pursuing Smart Card    smart card projects in the federal government. In what could be the largest
Projects               federally sponsored smart card rollout to date, the Department of
                       Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans
                       to issue smart ID cards to up to 15 million transportation workers who
                       require unescorted access to secure parts of transportation venues, such
                       as airports, seaports, and railroad terminals. TSA’s goal is to create a
                       standardized, universally recognized and accepted credential for the
                       transportation industry. According to agency officials, the card is being
                       designed to address a minimum set of requirements, but it will remain
                       flexible enough to support additional requirements as needed. According
                       to TSA’s plans, local authorities will use the card to verify the identity and

                        For more information about biometrics, see U.S. General Accounting Office, Information
                       Security: Challenges in Using Biometrics, GAO-03-1137T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2003)
                       and Technology Assessment: Using Biometrics for Border Security, GAO-03-174
                       (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 15, 2002).

                       Page 6                                                                   GAO-03-1108T
                          security level of the cardholder and will grant access to facilities in
                          accordance with local security policies.

                          In addition to Homeland Security, a number of other agencies have
                          undertaken pilot projects to test the capabilities of smart cards. The
                          Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, for example,
                          launched a pilot to provide smart cards to about 1,100 employees to be
                          used for personal identification at the bureau’s facilities and to serve as an
                          example to communicate the benefits of smart cards to employees
                          throughout the bureau. According to bureau officials, the project has been
                          a success, and the bureau plans to continue the rollout of smart cards to
                          its remaining employees. Other major smart card projects are also under
                          way at the Departments of the Treasury and State.

Smart Cards Offer         In addition to better securing physical access to facilities, smart cards can
Enhanced Safeguards for   be used to enhance the security of an organization’s computer systems by
Access to Computer        tightening what is known as “logical” access to systems and networks. A
                          user wishing to log on to a computer system or network with controlled
Systems and Data          access must “prove” his or her identity to the system—a process called
                          authentication. Many systems authenticate users by merely requiring them
                          to enter secret passwords, which provide only modest security because
                          they can be easily compromised. Substantially better user authentication
                          can be achieved by supplementing passwords with smart cards. To gain
                          access under this scenario, a user is prompted to insert a smart card into a
                          reader attached to the computer as well as type in a password. This
                          authentication process is significantly harder to circumvent, because an
                          intruder would need not only to guess a user’s password but also to
                          possess the same user’s smart card.

                          Smart cards can also be used in conjunction with public key infrastructure
                          (PKI) technology to better secure electronic messages and transactions. A
                          properly implemented and maintained PKI can offer several important
                          security services, including assurance that (1) the parties to an electronic
                          transaction are really whom they claim to be, (2) the information has not
                          been altered or shared with any unauthorized entity, and (3) neither party
                          will be able to wrongfully deny taking part in the transaction. An essential
                          component is the use of special pairs of encryption codes, called “public
                          keys” and “private keys,” that are unique to each user. The private keys
                          must be kept secret and secure; however, storing and using private keys
                          on a computer leaves them susceptible to attack, because a hacker who
                          gains control of that computer may then be able to use the private key
                          stored in it to fraudulently sign messages and conduct electronic

                          Page 7                                                            GAO-03-1108T
                             transactions. In contrast, if the private key is stored on a user’s smart card,
                             it may be significantly less vulnerable to attack and compromise. Security
                             experts generally agree that PKI technology is most effective when
                             deployed in conjunction with smart cards.8

                             The largest smart card program currently in the implementation phase is
                             the Department of Defense’s Common Access Card, which is being used
                             initially for logical access to automated systems and networks. Rollout
                             began in October 2000 with a goal of distributing cards to approximately
                             4 million individuals across the department by October 2003. In addition to
                             enabling access to specific Defense systems, the card is also used to better
                             ensure that electronic messages are accessible only by designated
                             recipients. The card includes a set of PKI credentials, including an
                             encryption key, signing key, and digital certificate, which contains the
                             user’s public key. Defense plans to add biometrics to the Common Access
                             Card in the future—which may include fingerprints, palm prints, iris scans,
                             or facial features—and to enable users to digitally sign travel vouchers
                             using the digital certificates on their cards. Defense also plans to add a
                             contactless chip to the card in the future to speed physical access for
                             military personnel to Defense facilities.

                             The benefits of smart card adoption can be achieved only if key
Challenges to the            management and technical challenges are understood and met. While
Successful Adoption          these challenges have slowed the adoption of smart card technology in
                             past years, they may be less difficult in the future because of increased
of Smart Cards               management concerns about securing federal facilities and information
                             systems, and because technical advances have improved the capabilities
                             and reduced the cost of smart card systems.

Sustaining Executive-Level   Maintaining executive-level commitment is essential to implementing a
Commitment                   smart card system effectively. For example, according to Defense officials,
                             the formal mandate of the Deputy Secretary of Defense to implement a
                             uniform, common access identification card across Defense was essential
                             to getting a project as large as the Common Access Card initiative

                              For more information about PKI technology, see U.S. General Accounting Office,
                             Information Security: Advances and Remaining Challenges to Adoption of Public Key
                             Infrastructure Technology, GAO-01-277 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 26, 2001).

                             Page 8                                                               GAO-03-1108T
                       launched and funded.9 The Deputy Secretary also assigned roles and
                       responsibilities to the military services and agencies and established a
                       deadline for defining smart card requirements. Defense officials noted that
                       without such executive-level support and clear direction, the smart card
                       initiative likely would have encountered organizational resistance and
                       concerns about cost that could have led to significant delays or

                       Treasury and TSA officials also indicated that sustained high-level support
                       had been crucial in launching smart card initiatives within their
                       organizations and that without this support, funding for such initiatives
                       probably would not have been available. In contrast, other federal smart
                       card pilot projects have been cancelled due to lack of executive-level
                       support. Officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) indicated
                       that their pilot VA Express smart card project, which issued cards to
                       veterans for use in registering at VA hospitals, would probably not be
                       expanded to full-scale implementation, largely because executive-level
                       priorities had changed, and support for a wide-scale smart card project
                       had not been sustained.

Recognizing Resource   Smart card implementation costs can be high, particularly if significant
Requirements           infrastructure modifications are required, or other technologies, such as
                       biometrics and PKI, are being implemented in tandem with the cards. Key
                       implementation activities that can be costly include managing contractors
                       and card suppliers, developing systems and interfaces with existing
                       personnel or credentialing systems, installing equipment and systems to
                       distribute the cards, and training personnel to issue and use smart cards.
                       As a result, agency officials have found that obtaining adequate resources
                       is critical to implementing a major government smart card system.

                       For example, at least $4.2 million10 was required to design, develop, and
                       implement the Western Governors Association’s Health Passport Project
                       to service up to 30,000 customers of health care services in several
                       western states. A report on that project acknowledged that it was
                       complicated and costly to manage card issuance activities. The report

                        Deputy Secretary of Defense, Memorandum on Smart Card Adoption and Implementation
                       (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 10, 1999).
                        According to the project’s final report, additional costs were incurred that have not been

                       Page 9                                                                       GAO-03-1108T
                             further indicated that help-desk services were difficult to manage because
                             of the number of organizations and outside retailers, as well as different
                             systems and hardware involved in the project.11 Project officials said they
                             expect costs to decrease as more clients are provided with smart cards
                             and the technology becomes more familiar to users; they also believe that
                             smart card benefits will exceed costs over the long term.

                             The full cost of a smart card system can also be greater than originally
                             anticipated because of the costs of related technologies, such as PKI. For
                             example, Defense initially budgeted about $78 million for the Common
                             Access Card program in 2000 and 2001 and expected to provide the device
                             to about 4 million military, civilian, and contract employees by October
                             2003. It now expects to expend over $250 million by 2003—more than
                             double the original estimate—and likely will not have all cards distributed
                             until 2004. Many of the increases in Common Access Card program costs
                             were attributed by Defense officials to underestimating the costs of
                             upgrading and managing legacy systems and processes for card issuance.
                             According to Defense program officials, the department will likely expend
                             over $1 billion for its smart cards and PKI capabilities by 2005. In addition
                             to the costs mentioned above, the military services and defense agencies
                             were required to fund the purchase of over 2.5 million card readers and
                             the middleware to make them work with existing computer applications,
                             at a cost likely to exceed $93 million. The military services and defense
                             agencies are also expected to provide funding to enable applications to
                             interoperate with the PKI certificates loaded on the cards. Defense
                             provided about $712 million to issue certificates to cardholders as part of
                             the PKI program but provided no additional funding to enable

Integrating Physical and     The ability of smart card systems to address both physical and logical
Logical Security Practices   (information systems) security means that unprecedented levels of
across Organizations         cooperation may be required among internal organizations that often had
                             not previously collaborated, especially physical security organizations and
                             information technology organizations. Nearly all federal officials we

                               Jenny Bernstein, Robin Koralek, Cheryl Owens, Nancy Pindus, and Barbara Selter, Final
                             Report—The Health Passport Project: Assessment and Recommendations (December
                              Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense, Implementation of DOD Public
                             Key Infrastructure Policy and Procedures, Report No. D-2002-030 (Dec. 28, 2001).

                             Page 10                                                                  GAO-03-1108T
                             interviewed noted that existing security practices and procedures varied
                             significantly across organizational entities within their agencies and that
                             changing each of these well-established processes and attempting to
                             integrate them across the agency was a formidable challenge.

                             Defense officials stated that it has been difficult to take advantage of the
                             multiapplication capabilities of its Common Access Card for these very
                             reasons. As it is being rolled out, the card is primarily being used for
                             logical access—for helping to authenticate cardholders accessing systems
                             and networks and for digitally signing electronic transactions using PKI.
                             Officials have only recently begun to consider ways to use the Common
                             Access Card across the department to better control physical access over
                             military facilities. Few Defense facilities are currently using the card for
                             this purpose. Defense officials said it had been difficult to persuade
                             personnel responsible for the physical security of military facilities to
                             establish new processes for smart cards and biometrics and to make
                             significant changes to existing badge systems.

                             In addition to the gap between physical and logical security organizations,
                             the sheer number of separate and incompatible existing systems also adds
                             to the challenge to establishing an integrated agencywide smart card
                             system. One Treasury official, for example, noted that departmentwide
                             initiatives, such as its planned smart card project, require the support of 14
                             different bureaus and services. Each of these entities has different systems
                             and processes in place to control access to buildings, automated systems,
                             and electronic transactions. Agreement could not always be reached on a
                             single business process to address security requirements among these
                             diverse entities.

Achieving Interoperability   Interoperability13 is a key consideration in smart card deployment. The
among Smart Card             value of a smart card is greatly enhanced if it can be used with multiple
Systems                      systems at different agencies, and GSA has reported that virtually all
                             agencies agree that interoperability at some level is critical to widespread
                             adoption of smart cards across the government. However, achieving
                             interoperability has been difficult, because smart card products and
                             systems developed in the past have generally been incompatible in all but
                             very rudimentary ways. With varying products available from many

                               Interoperability is the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange
                             information and to use the information exchanged.

                             Page 11                                                                    GAO-03-1108T
vendors, there has been no obvious choice for an interoperability

GSA considered the achievement of interoperability across card systems
to be one of its main priorities in developing its Smart Access Common ID
Card contract, which is intended to serve as a governmentwide vehicle for
obtaining commercial smart card products and services. Accordingly, GSA
designed the contract to require awardees to work with GSA and the
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)14 to develop a
government interoperability specification. The resulting specification
defines a uniform set of command and response messages for smart cards
to use in communicating with card readers. Vendors can meet the
specification by writing software for their cards that translates their
unique command and response formats to the government standard. Such
a specification previously had not been available.

According to NIST officials, the first version of the interoperability
specification, completed in August 2000, did not include sufficient detail to
establish interoperability among vendors’ disparate smart card products.
The officials stated that this occurred because representatives from NIST,
the contractors, and other federal agencies had only a very limited time to
develop the first version. The current version, version 2.1,15 released in July
2003, is a significant improvement, providing better definitions of many
details, such as how smart cards should exchange information with
software applications and card readers, as well as a specification for
contactless cards and accommodations for the future use of biometrics.
However, potential interoperability issues may arise for those agencies
that purchased and deployed smart card products based on the original

 NIST is the lead agency in the Standards Technical Working Group, which was
established by the Government Smart Card Interagency Advisory Board to develop and
update the Government Smart Card Interoperability Specification. In addition, NIST is
responsible for developing a comprehensive conformance test program for the
 Government Smart Card Interoperability Specification, Version 2.1, NIST Interagency
Report 6887 (Jul. 16, 2003).

Page 12                                                                   GAO-03-1108T
Maintaining the Security of   Although concerns about security are a key driver for the adoption of
Smart Card Systems and        smart card technology in the federal government, the security of smart
Privacy of Personal           card systems is not foolproof and must be addressed when agencies plan
                              the implementation of a smart card system. Smart cards can offer
Information                   significantly enhanced control over access to buildings and systems,
                              particularly when used in combination with other advanced technologies,
                              such as PKI and biometrics. Although smart card systems are generally
                              much harder to attack than traditional ID cards and password-protected
                              systems, they are not invulnerable. In order to obtain the improved
                              security services that smart cards offer, care must be taken to ensure that
                              the cards and their supporting systems do not pose unacceptable security

                              Smart card systems generally are designed with a variety of features
                              designed to thwart attack.16 For example, cards are assigned unique serial
                              numbers to counter unauthorized duplication and contain integrated
                              circuit chips that are resistant to tampering so that their information
                              cannot be easily extracted and used. However, security experts point out
                              that because a smart-card–based system involves many different discrete
                              elements that cannot be physically controlled at all times by an
                              organization’s security personnel, there is at least a theoretically greater
                              opportunity for malfeasance than would exist for a more self-contained

                              In fact, a smart-card–based system involves many parties (the cardholders,
                              data owner, computing devices, card issuer, card manufacturer, and
                              software manufacturer) that potentially could pose threats to the system.
                              For example, researchers have found ways to circumvent security
                              measures and extract information from smart cards, and an individual
                              cardholder could be motivated to attack his or her card in order to access
                              and modify the stored data on the card—perhaps to change personal
                              information or increase the cash value that may be stored on the card.
                              Further, smart cards are connected to computing devices (such as agency
                              networks, desktop and laptop computers, and automatic teller machines)

                                In this context, an attack is an attempt by one or more parties involved in a smart-card–
                              based transaction to cheat by taking advantage of potential weaknesses in the security of
                              the card.
                               Bruce Schneier and Adam Shostack, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Modeling Security
                              Threats for Smart Cards” in USENIX Workshop on Smart Card Technology (USENIX
                              Press, 1999), pp. 175–185.

                              Page 13                                                                      GAO-03-1108T
through card readers that control the flow of data to and from the smart
card. Attacks mounted on either the card readers or any of the attached
computing systems could compromise the safeguards that are the goals of
implementing a smart card system.

Smart cards used to support multiple applications may introduce
additional risks to the system. For example, if adequate care is not taken
in designing and testing each software application, loading new
applications onto existing cards could compromise the security of the
other applications already stored on the cards. In general, guaranteeing
the security of a multiapplication card can be more difficult because of the
difficulty of determining which application is running inside a
multiapplication smart card at any given time. If an application runs at an
unauthorized time, it could gain unauthorized access to data intended only
for other applications.

In addition to security, protecting the privacy of personal information is a
growing concern and must be addressed with regard to the personal
information contained on smart cards. Once in place, smart-card–based
systems designed simply to control access to facilities and systems could
also be used to track the day-to-day activities of individuals, potentially
compromising their privacy. Further, smart-card–based systems could be
used to aggregate sensitive information about individuals for purposes
other than those prompting the initial collection of the information, which
could compromise privacy. The Privacy Act of 197418 requires the federal
government to restrict the disclosure of personally identifiable records
maintained by federal agencies, while permitting individuals access to
their own records and the right to seek amendment of agency records that
are inaccurate, irrelevant, untimely, or incomplete. Further, the E-
Government Act of 200219 requires that agencies conduct privacy impact
assessments before developing or procuring information technology that
collects, maintains, or disseminates personally identifiable information.
Accordingly, agency officials need to assess and plan for appropriate
privacy measures when implementing smart-card–based systems and
ensure that privacy impact assessments are conducted when required.

GSA, NIST, and other agency officials indicated that security and privacy
issues are challenging, because governmentwide policies have not yet

 5 U.S.C. § 552a.
 E-Government Act of 2002, Public Law 107-347 (Dec. 17, 2002).

Page 14                                                          GAO-03-1108T
                       been established, and widespread use of the technology has not yet
                       occurred. As smart card projects evolve and are used more frequently,
                       especially by citizens, agencies are increasingly likely to need policy
                       guidance to ensure consistent and appropriate implementation that
                       ensures an adequate degree of security as well as privacy.

                       Given the significant management and technical challenges associated
Actions Have Been      with successful adoption of smart cards, an ongoing series of initiatives
Taken to Promote       have been undertaken in the federal government to facilitate the adoption
                       of the technology. As I mentioned earlier, GSA was originally tasked in
Consistent Smart       1996 with coordinating an effort to adopt multiapplication smart cards
Card Adoption across   across the federal government, and it has taken important steps to
                       promote federal smart card use. For example, since 1998, GSA has worked
Government             with several other federal agencies to promote broad adoption of smart
                       cards for authentication throughout the federal government. Specifically,
                       GSA worked with the Department of the Navy to establish a technology
                       demonstration center to showcase smart card technology and
                       applications, and it established a smart card project managers’ group and
                       Government Smart Card Interagency Advisory Board.20 The agency also
                       established an interagency team to plan for uniform federal access
                       procedures, digital signatures, and other transactions, and to develop
                       federal smart card interoperability and security guidelines.

                       For many federal agencies, GSA’s chief contribution to promoting federal
                       adoption of smart cards was its effort in 2000 to develop a standard
                       contracting vehicle for use by federal agencies in procuring commercial
                       smart card products from vendors.21 Under the terms of the Smart Access
                       Common ID Card contract, GSA, NIST, and the contract’s awardees
                       worked together to develop smart card interoperability guidelines—
                       including an architectural model, interface definitions, and standard data
                       elements—that were intended to guarantee that all the products made
                       available through the contract would be capable of working together.
                       Several federal smart card projects—including projects at NASA and the
                       Departments of Homeland Security, State, and the Treasury—have used or

                         In 2000, GSA established the Government Smart Card Interagency Advisory Board to
                       address government smart card issues, standards, and practices, as well as to help resolve
                       interoperability problems among agencies.
                        GSA released the solicitation (GS-TFF-99-203) for the Smart Identification Card on
                       January 7, 2000. In May 2000, the contract was awarded to five vendors.

                       Page 15                                                                     GAO-03-1108T
                           are planning to use the GSA contract vehicle. This effort is intended to
                           directly address the challenge of achieving interoperability among smart
                           card systems that I mentioned earlier.

                           In our report issued earlier this year, we pointed out additional areas that
                           are important for GSA to address in order to more effectively promote
                           adoption of smart cards, including, among other things, implementing
                           smart cards consistently throughout GSA and developing an agencywide
                           position on the adoption of smart cards. We made recommendations to
                           GSA to address these issues, and agency officials told us they have begun
                           to address them. Specifically, GSA has adopted a new agencywide
                           credential policy and consolidated its internal smart card projects within
                           the Public Buildings Service. It is planning to roll out a uniform smart ID
                           card for all GSA employees by December 2003.

OMB Has Recently Set       In our January report, we also recommended that OMB develop
New Policy for             governmentwide policy guidance for adoption of smart cards, seeking
Governmentwide Smart       input from all federal agencies, with particular emphasis on agencies with
                           smart card expertise. We noted that without such guidance, agencies may
Card Adoption              be unnecessarily reluctant to take advantage of the potential of smart
                           cards to enhance the security of agency facilities and automated systems.

                           OMB has begun to take action to develop a framework of policy guidance
                           for governmentwide smart card adoption. Specifically, on July 3, 2003,
                           OMB’s Administrator for E-Government and Information Technology
                           issued a memorandum detailing specific actions the administration was
                           taking to streamline authentication and identity management in the federal
                           government.22 The memo sketched out a three-part initiative:

                       •   First, OMB plans to develop common policy for authentication and
                           identity management, including technical guidance to be developed by
                           GSA and NIST, that will result in a comprehensive policy for credentialing
                           federal employees. A newly established Federal Identity and Credentialing
                           Committee is intended to collect agency input on policy and requirements
                           and coordinate this effort.

                            Office of Management and Budget, Memorandum for Chief Information Officers of
                           Departments and Agencies on Streamlining Authentication and Identity Management
                           within the Federal Government (Washington, D.C.: July 3, 2003).

                           Page 16                                                            GAO-03-1108T
                       •   Second, OMB intends to execute a governmentwide acquisition of
                           authentication technology, including smart cards, to achieve cost savings
                           in the near term. The memo states that agencies are encouraged to refrain
                           from making separate acquisitions without coordinating with the Federal
                           Identity and Credentialing Committee.

                       •   Finally OMB plans to consolidate agency investments in credentials and
                           PKI services by selecting shared service providers by the end of 2003 and
                           planning for agencies to migrate to those providers during fiscal years
                           2004 and 2005.

Challenges Remain in       Much work remains to be done to turn OMB’s vision of streamlined federal
Implementing the New       credentialing into reality. According to GSA’s smart cards program
Policy                     director, it will be difficult to reconcile the widely varying security
                           requirements of federal agencies to arrive at a stable system design that all
                           agencies can adhere to. Even with a new version of NIST’s
                           governmentwide smart card interoperability specification in place,
                           agencies are still not in agreement about definitions for certain basic
                           elements, because advances in technology create endless opportunities to
                           change the specification. For example, the Department of Defense is
                           currently seeking a change in the standard size of a smart card’s embedded
                           identifying code, to strengthen the card’s internal security. However,
                           implementing such a change may be very expensive for agencies already
                           committed to the existing specification. While it is important to keep
                           technical specifications up to date—and addressing security is a challenge
                           that I’ve already noted—frequent changes in specifications could
                           nevertheless slow progress in achieving a governmentwide solution. Given
                           the trade-offs that must be considered, achieving governmentwide
                           interoperability of smart cards could take longer than OMB’s
                           memorandum anticipates.

                           In our January report, we recommended that NIST continue to improve
                           and update the government smart card interoperability specification by
                           addressing additional technologies—such as contactless cards, biometrics,
                           and optical stripe media—as well as integration with PKI. As I discussed
                           earlier, NIST recently issued version 2.1 of the specification, which
                           includes as an appendix a specification for contactless cards, as well as
                           accommodations for the future use of biometrics. NIST officials said they
                           intend to continue working to improve the specification and plan to
                           actively participate in the newly established Federal Identity and
                           Credentialing Committee.

                           Page 17                                                        GAO-03-1108T
                   Another potential difficulty in achieving OMB’s vision of streamlined
                   federal credentialing could be the need to reach consensus on policies for
                   using smart-card–based systems. In our January report, we recommended
                   that OMB issue governmentwide policy guidance regarding adoption of
                   smart cards for secure access to physical and logical assets, and to do so
                   in conjunction with federal agencies that have experience with smart card
                   technology. According to the chair of the Federal Identity and
                   Credentialing Committee, basic policy guidance on developing smart-
                   card–based systems is being readied, based on work done at the
                   Department of Homeland Security. However, additional guidance will also
                   be needed to define minimum standards for the process of verifying
                   individuals’ identities when credentials are issued to them. According to
                   the committee chair, it is likely that agencies currently have in place a
                   wide variety of ways of performing identity verification, and it will be
                   challenging to achieve consistency in how this is done across government.
                   Without such consistency, agencies might not be able to rely on
                   credentials issued by other agencies, because they would not know what
                   level of assurance was met in issuing those credentials.

                   In summary, the federal government has made progress in promoting the
                   adoption of smart cards, which have clear benefits in enhancing security
                   over access to buildings and other facilities as well as computer systems
                   and networks. However, agencies continue to face a number of challenges
                   in implementing smart-card–based systems, including sustaining executive
                   level commitment, recognizing resource requirements, integrating physical
                   and logical security practices, achieving interoperability, and maintaining
                   system security and privacy of personal information. In July 2003, OMB
                   took an important step in addressing these challenges by issuing new
                   policy for streamlining authentication and identity management in the
                   federal government. However, much work still needs to be done before
                   credentialing systems that are interoperable and achieve consistent levels
                   of assurance are commonplace across government agencies.

                   Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer
                   any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have at
                   this time.

                   If you should have any questions about this testimony, please contact me
Contact and        at (202) 512-6222 or via E-mail at willemssenj@gao.gov. Other major
Acknowledgements   contributors to this testimony included Barbara Collier, John de Ferrari,
                   Steven Law, Elizabeth Roach, and Yvonne Vigil.

                   Page 18                                                       GAO-03-1108T
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