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COMPUTING

A high-tech war on drugs

Mobile VPNs are key to law enforcement alliance in Southern states

December 30, 1998
Web posted at: 3:05 PM EST

by L. Scott Tillett

From...
Civic.com

(IDG) -- Counternarcotics units in four Southern states soon will begin piloting a new technology that allows law enforcement officials to work securely on mobile computers -- palmtops and laptops -- to create virtual private networks (VPNs) over the Internet.

As many as 3,000 law enforcement officials in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi will use a new software application product called Viatores to build a secure VPN for sharing information while investigating drug-related crimes. A small start-up company in Northern Virginia, Ecutel LLC, pioneered the application.

Ecutel has built into Viatores a feature that allows mobile users to stay mobile without having to reconfigure their systems. The company likens the capability to a cellular phone caller's ability to use a cell phone without having to reconfigure the device each time his signal is handed off to a different communications tower.

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Ecutel's Viatores promises to extend that concept to mobile computers. If true, the product will lessen the aggravation experienced every time officers want to move around a jurisdiction and still maintain a VPN.

"Everything became chaotic when [VPN users who needed mobility] tried to communicate," said John Harrison, chief executive officer at Ecutel. "It was taking a lot of time because they had to reconfigure their networks each time." In some cases, it might take as long as 40 minutes to reconfigure a virtual network, he said.

The frustration level alone may drive state and local law enforcement interest in Viatores, predicted Preston Cherouny, director of business development at Capital Reps LLC, Reston, Va., a consulting firm Ecutel enlisted to search for resellers and potential customers in the state and local market. Ecutel hopes to take the Southern states project and duplicate it for other state and local law enforcement agencies. "Right now we're talking to the New York State Police," Cherouny added.

"Once communities see the impact of having rapid, clear communication at a reduced cost, many regions will look forward to having this capability simply for law enforcement officer safety," said Dennis Wilke, program manager for the initiative.

Connectivity in the four Southern states will start in Mississippi in a phased approach, with the first installation in the state's Department of Public Safety and Highway Patrol. Other Mississippi state agencies will be added, and eventually usage will extend to the three other states.

Scott Tillett is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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