Even Hardened PDAs WereBy Evan Schuman | Posted 2006-03-06 Print
The CIO picked PDAs to replace time cards and clocks as a way to improve project management and worker safety. But the new system had to meet airtight security standards.Tough to Implement">
Setting up this system, however, was not without some challenges.
From the start, Taylor knew that the PDAs would have to work in difficult conditions. The devices needed to be hardened to resist dust and debris from any construction site; they also had to be able to function well in the moist air surrounding ships, as well as survive the inevitable drops into water.
So, the PDAs the shipyard uses are designed to survive heavy rain, dust and up to a six-foot drop onto concrete. "[For example], when we first bought the Palms, two were dropped overboard during the second month," Taylor says. "Three fell from 30, 40 and 50 feet, but they kept running. These devices, you simply can't destroy them."
Beyond harsh elements, the Todd Pacific work site has other attributes that make a wireless PDA network challenging, such as a 46-acre construction area that includes multiple buildings and cranes, with workers often inside a ship's hull, which signals cannot penetrate. The shipyard needed to make sure it had a usable signal across the site.
Todd Pacific's I.T. team addressed the issue by setting up two wireless networks—one outside the ship that connects to a second network inside the ship. A wireless network that uses an Ethernet backbone connects the dock and buildings; the second network uses 300-foot-long wires that act as aerial antennas. The antennas are installed inside ships so that workers in a vessel's bowels can communicate and be located, Taylor says. The antennas cost less than $2,000.
Sometimes, however, the system worked too well. Some of the PDAs became "confused" when multiple antennas tried to connect with them. Symbol Technologies, the company that was providing the wireless Palm PDAs, spent about 90 days reprogramming the software in the antenna system to allow the closest PDA to be the only one connected to a particular antenna.
The system also had to meet tough security standards. Because Todd Pacific's customers include the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, the shipyard has to ensure that the units match or exceed strict military security requirements. After all, the Pentagon doesn't want information relating to its vessels such as schematics, identification of contractors, and the nature and duration of repairs to fall into the wrong hands.
Security procedures are extensive, but are not particularly unusual for sites working on Pentagon projects. For data transmission, those measures include 156-bit encryption—which is more secure
than the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 128-bit standard—as well as a robust implementation of the Internet Engineering Task Force's Kerberos authentication protocol, which assigns a unique key to an authorized person using the network to confirm his or her identity when sending a message about military equipment.
Todd Pacific also established a separate server to handle only data entry. The data is encrypted to 156 bits, and the algorithms for the interface are changed daily, Taylor says.
Todd Pacific: PDAs Help Keep Shipyard on Course
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