For the more than 5.4 million first responders in the US, quick access to accurate public safety data is critical to performing their life-saving jobs. Today, the rise of mobile technology gives the PSFR (public safety/first responder) sector a host of new tools—such as mapping and GIS data, video analytics and IoT—that empower first responders, but can also raise serious concerns.
Chief among these is how to best secure access to the sensitive data transmitted across public safety networks. It takes just one compromised mobile device for a hacker to gain unauthorized access to a network and put the whole system at risk for everybody.
Combining security needs with first responder requirements is tricky
PSFR work isn’t just another day at the office. Providing mobile PSFR workers the swift, accurate data they need presents unique challenges including:
- Disaster-prone delays from complex authentication protocols and easy-to-forget passwords
- Managing secure access across multiple departments and jurisdictions—all with separate networks, operating environments, applications and devices
- Optimizing authentication approaches for different use cases and users
- Implementing security in challenging work conditions and for specialized equipment—such as police riding motorcycles, firefighter protective gear, heads-up data displays for EMTs and extreme weather conditions
- Meeting state and local regulations and complying with the CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Services) policies for mobile database access
Multi-factor authentication solutions offer advanced security and flexibility to mobile workers
Today, multi-factor authentication (MFA) is seen as the safest way to verify a user’s identity. It’s ideal for meeting the challenges of first responders—or mobile workforces in any sector that need to perform in unique and/or unpredictable circumstances. MFA uses two or more authentication factors to confirm a user’s identity—some combination of what you have (passwords, tokens), what you know (password, answers to security questions) and what you are (fingerprints, iris scans, face).
One MFA success story is the Phoenix Fire Department (PFD), which deployed our DigitalPersona authentication solution to address several issues. First, the CJIS (criminal justice information services) database had only been accessible from stations and HQ using strong passwords that burdened personnel with creating and maintaining them. Second, without MFA, those working mobile couldn’t access the CJIS database in the field, when and where it was needed.
A success on all fronts:
- PFD employees no longer have the burden and delays caused by complex password protocols.
- By installing DigitalPersona’s fingerprint reader on the department’s already existing laptops, PFD meets CJIS requirements in a way that was convenient for mobile officers.
- The department can push out authentication changes to its fleet of laptops, providing access to only the information needed to perform specific duties.
- PFD leveraged its existing infrastructure, avoiding a costly server reconfiguration.
Recent collaborations between technology companies are making mobile access for PFSR workers ever more workable. For example, Panasonic recently teamed up with Crossmatch to bundle the DigitalPersona authentication software with Panasonic’s Toughbook, which is designed to operate in a wide range of extreme environments including law enforcement vehicles. For more information on public sector solutions that involve mobile computing and security, contact us today.