FIGHTING TERROR WITH TECHNOLOGY
The security technology industry is transforming itself to fight the war on terror. Just three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, conventional security technologies such as access control, closed circuit television (CCTV), and weapon and explosives screening equipment are developing revolutionary new capabilities. Once-lazy areas of technology such as chemical, biological, and radiological sensor systems have jumped to the top of government research and development priority lists. Post Sept. 11 security needs have also boosted relatively new categories of security technologies covering areas such as cargo tracking, cyber-security, and data mining for intelligence purposes.
Indeed, security technology is changing so fast that it is difficult to determine where the state-of-the-art stands. To answer that question, Government Security interviewed security technology providers with an eye toward emerging innovations.
Our interviews were aimed at identifying prominent research and development concepts in security technology categories. Categories were adapted from those suggested by a recent report from the Civitas Group llc, a Washington, D.C.-based security consulting group:
sensor technologies that detect a range of radiological, biological, and chemical threats;
emerging identification and authentication capabilities;
screening technologies with enhanced weapons and explosives detection capabilities;
CCTV and surveillance technologies featuring intelligent sensing and reporting capabilities;
cargo tracking technologies that protect commercial logistics and supply chains;
cyber-security technologies that protect the nation’s information infrastructure; and
data analysis technology that detects patterns of activity and forecasts potential terrorist attacks.
This article will provide an overview of all seven categories and focus on the mature and emerging technologies in each. Suppliers were chosen to be interviewed at random from among the many companies that supply these technologies.
Making Sense Of Sensors
Sensor technology is a key to defending against biological, chemical, and radiological attacks. Today, handheld sensors can detect the presence of approximately 30 dangerous chemicals, says Bill Mawer, president of Smiths Detection, North America, which works in this area. “The next generation of technology will sense the presence of as many as a couple hundred chemicals,” he says.
Chemical sensors also stand as a first line of defense against biological weapons. Although chemical sensors cannot identify biological materials, they can eliminate possible chemical threats, and determine that a particular substance may pose a biological threat. At that point, a second device capable of identifying biological agents is required. Smiths Detection is currently testing a handheld version of a biological sensor for first responders. “This device can test for anthrax, plague, and other biologicals,” Mawer says.
On the radiological front, Smiths plans to introduce a cargo container X-ray screening system designed to detect explosives as well as radiation. These systems represent the next step in the fight against radiological weapons, but hardly the last. “While current radiological sensors can detect threats when close to containers, the larger problem is the huge volume of container traffic that has to be scanned,” Mawer says. “In the long term, researchers need to find ways to screen millions of containers economically.”
Identification And Authentication
Emerging biometric tools are also improving investigative capabilities and providing better control over human access to buildings and offices.
According to Dr. Paul Griffin, chief technology officer with Minnetonka, Minn.-based Identix Corp., state-of-the-art automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) employ digital readers that capture images in 500-dots-per-inch (DPI) files. Emerging technology will soon do better.
“New digital imaging systems are being developed to increase digital detail to 1,000 DPI,” Griffin says. “Today’s fingerprint images resolve ridges, ridge endings, and bifurcations. The more detailed 1,000 DPI images will pick up pores and sweat glands and significantly improve matching capabilities.” Griffin believes digital fingerprinting systems will come to market within the next five years.
Researchers are also developing ways to use living human skin as a biometric identifier. In Albuquerque, N.M., Lumidigm Inc., has developed a technology that uses unique characteristics of living skin as a biometric identifier. The technique aims to overcome the problems associated with fake fingerprints made of artificial material or dead skin.
Identix is developing its own skin analysis system that will use microscopic bumps and irregularities on the top layer of skin to improve the matching capabilities of facial recognition systems. According to Griffin, the technology, due for release in the coming year, fuses facial features and skin features and can distinguish between identical twins.
Another identification technology, called “3D face,” also aims to improve facial recognition systems. “Research today is combining facial images with depth,” Griffin says. “The next generation of facial recognition systems will combine the texture of a face with three-dimensional depth. The combination will be powerful enough to satisfy very high security applications.”
Griffin estimates that early 3D face recognition systems will arrive on the market in just more than a year.
Screening For Weapons And Explosives
Current X-ray screening systems coupled with improved operator training address the threat of smuggling a weapon or bomb into an office building or onto an airplane reasonably well, according to Mawer. “The threat that is not well covered is the suicide bomber wearing a bomb or carrying a hidden weapon made of advanced plastics or ceramics,” he says.
Later this year, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will begin testing new automated explosives detection portals. Shaped like metal detection portals, these devices blow puffs of air over an individual, collect particles freed by the air puffs, and conduct explosive trace analyses.
Mawer says the “sniffing” devices are already being used at airports in Europe. In some European installations, Smiths has combined metal detection portals with sniffers that screen for metal and explosives at the same time. “This integrated systems approach is where we are heading,” he says.
What about ceramic and plastic weapons? Millimeter wave and X-ray imaging portals can today generate images of weapons and explosive devices hidden under the clothing. The problem with this technology has been propriety. Sometimes called an electronic strip search, the procedure produces revealing images of the human body along with the metal, plastic, and ceramic shapes being sought. To eliminate the strip search problem, researchers are looking at ways to remove the body from the viewing image by transferring the metal, ceramic, and plastic items to a wire frame image resembling a generic body.
Smiths is also developing a handheld wand that will detect not just metal, but also ceramic weapons and even explosives. The technology uses terahertz waves, a frequency band between radio and infrared capable of analyzing chemical compositions and identifying substances.
CCTV That Watches Itself
CCTV has anchored security systems for decades, but conventional CCTV is not smart enough to deal with today’s threats because it relies on people to monitor video. People get tired and miss events. Today, researchers are developing intelligent CCTV software with the goal of replacing people as video monitors.
ObjectVideo Inc., Reston, Va., has developed an intelligent CCTV system that will alarm if, for example, someone climbs over a fence or puts down a bag and walks away. “This is mature technology that understands simple rules; ultimately it is like having a three-year-old child monitor video,” says Alan Lipton, chief technology officer with ObjectVideo.
According to Lipton, intelligent CCTV research is now chasing two goals. “We want to teach the software to identify patterns and to recognize certain human activities at the level of a teenager,” he says.
A pattern recognition software would alarm, for example, if vehicles stopped at the same time on all the bridges leading into Manhattan. Such a system would notice if the same car appeared outside the fence of several airports. It would pick out a person dressed in a heavy coat in the middle of the summer. “This is called anomaly detection,” Lipton says. “The idea is to teach the system to learn everyday patterns and to alarm when something does not fit the pattern. We’re working on this with a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency (DARPA).”
Lipton expects early pattern recognition systems to arrive by the end of 2005, accompanied by forensics systems able to search out anomalies in video archives.
Human activity recognition — CCTV systems as smart as teenagers — will take longer. “This idea involves teaching the computer to recognize complex human actions, such as a fight; a person reaching for a gun; a person falling over; or a room in which everyone has started to run,” Lipton says. “While this is a goal we’re working toward, there is no schedule for the arrival of this technology yet.”
Protecting Cargo From Manufacturer To Retailer
Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense (DoD) recently mandated that suppliers affix RFID tags to products arriving at their distribution centers. The mandates, designed for phased rollouts, will eventually apply to Wal-Mart’s 10,000 suppliers and the DoD’s 42,000 suppliers. While each mandate begins with tagging pallets and the cartons carried on pallets, the DoD also wants individual products worth more than $5,000 tagged as well. Eventually, RFID tags will extend to all products for both organizations
In the process, a comprehensive RFID cargo identification system will take shape in the global supply chain. “RFID is a mature technology,” says Matthew Ream, senior manager, RFID systems with Zebra Technologies Corp., Vernon Hills, Ill. “The emerging part is moving the technology to the pallet, case and product level.”
Eventually RFID security will work this way: Information written on the pallet, carton and product RFID tags will appear on active RFID tags affixed to the large cargo containers in which pallets are shipped. Active tags differ from passive tags used in the rest of the system. Active tags can be read from a distance of 300 feet. They can also be wired to the cargo container’s door and set to alarm when the door opens. Upon delivery, automated standoff readers could determine if tagged containers have been opened and possibly tampered with during shipping.
A cargo container’s RFID tag can also record security checks made at various stages of the shipping journey. That information can become important when exceptions arise. Suppose a ship or plane arrives with containers that passed through X-ray screening checks when loaded onto a ship or airplane. Suppose further that the RFID tag on one container does not indicate that an X-ray examination has been made. Security personnel would then know to investigate the container before allowing it out of port.
Despite the horror stories about hackers, viruses, and worms that regularly compromise information system infrastructures around the country, state-of-the-art in cyber-security systems can defeat these threats, says Todd Wiseman, vice president for Homeland security with Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM. “Information system security capabilities are quite robust, today,” he says.
The problem, Wiseman says, is that government and companies often fail to make the incremental upgrades necessary to ward off stronger attacks.
The cyber-security process has changed little over the past decade. It still involves managing user IDs and password authorizations, preventing intrusions from hackers and limiting the damage caused by viruses and worms. According to Wiseman, this area of technology has reached sort of a steady state characterized by one-upsmanship. “It’s all about staying ahead of the bad guys,” he says. “When they begin to catch up, there is another round of incremental technical progress, and we leap ahead.”
Finding Clues In Mountains Of Intelligence
Among the most disturbing findings of last summer’s 9-11 Commission Report was the discovery that U.S. intelligence efforts had gathered many clues indicating that a terrorist attack was being planned. No one, of course, put the clues together.
In May of this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created the National Visual Analytics Center (NVAC) to develop tools and methods designed to identify and correlate information that can help to discover and predict terrorist activities.
“Visual analytics combines human intuition and the science of mathematical deduction to perceive patterns and derive knowledge from them,” says Jim Thomas, chief scientist for information technologies with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the director of the new NVAC.
The goal of NVAC is to develop technology capable of scanning enormous and complex information streams composed of documents, measurements, images and video. The system would then organize data into graphs and charts displaying patterns and themes. According to Dr. Charles McQueary, under secretary for science and technology with DHS: “Being able to collect, combine and analyze vast amounts of information plays an ever-increasing role in preventing terrorist attacks in the United States, and visual analysis of this information is a crucial tool.”