Some of the most innovative solutions come from companies in our own backyard.
Every once in a while, Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 terrorism attacks, emerges from a cave somewhere to remind the world he’s alive and well and still a threat. Whether he’s successful or not in rallying the faithful to act on his laundry list of wishes — destroy Israel, blow the Middle East back a few centuries and punish the infidels — he has been successful in at least one area: driving IT innovation. That, and providing fodder for a host of TV shows.
As a result of the continued, or at least perceived, threat radical terrorists pose, many countries have accelerated their development of security technologies aimed at preventing another mass tragedy in the air, at ports or anywhere else.
For example, Ottawa-based Frontline Robotics Inc. demonstrated one of its GRUNTS (ground unit robots) at the Canadian Aviation Security conference in Ottawa in early April. The robot, a 1,000-lb, seven-foot long, six-wheel, amphibious, gas-powered vehicle with a top speed of 35 kilometres per hour, is built on the robot open control system, which controls a team of collaborating robots, all of whom share what each sees in real time via multiple procedural reasoning system engines. According to Frontline, humans set the objectives and provide a menu of plans and the robots carry them out. “So if you had 10 robots positioned around the perimeter of the Ottawa airport, which is a 17.5 km fence, every robot would see what every robot sees and there would be a complete wide area situational awareness,” explains Frontline CEO Rob Richards. “They are told the mission from their team leader and they go ahead and perform that mission. That could be ‘patrol that section of fence,’ or ‘stand over there and sniff for explosives’ or ‘take photos of any moving items in the parking garage.’”
The benefit of having robots patrol perimeters rather than people, he says, is that robots don’t get tired, they don’t take coffee breaks and best of all, they don’t complain. “These robots love to do dull missions, and 99.99 per cent of the time nothing is going on, and people get very tired of that — it’s dull and boring, it puts you to sleep,” says Richards. “It’s not a good job for humans, but it’s ideal for robots. The one time in two years something happens they’re there at peak readiness ready to record what’s going on and pass the information on to their human counterparts.”
Frontline, which will be piloting the robots sometime this summer at the Ottawa airport, will start out with two, growing to an indefinite number over time, says Richards, who is still short on the details. Ideally, though, there would be 10 robots patrolling the airport’s 17.5-km fence.
Frontline has also developed smaller, R2D2-like robots for performing functions such as scanning airports for hazardous materials, nuclear emissions, explosives, unattended baggage or anything defined as not normal. While Frontline focuses on protecting travellers from outside threats, other technologies zero in on the threat from within. Identita, another Ottawa-based firm, has developed acoustic smart card technology that can be used for pretty much any kind of ID card, such as a driver’s licence, health card or national ID card. In an aviation security setting, it could be used as an access control card, says CEO Rocky Stefano.
“(Say) you have a customer that currently issues three cards to their employees — a parking pass, building pass and an employee badge,” he says. “We combine all three into one and the card that used to be their badge allows them to sign onto their PC, encrypt e-mail, secure documents and do any number of things.” The technology works by generating a unique audio signal every time it’s used, he explains. “It looks like a credit card. You squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger and the switch activates the chip,” says Stefano. “We do our cryptomagic and the sound comes out of a miniature speaker embedded within the plastic.”
Another, and perhaps most important, piece of the aviation security picture is the contribution airport screeners make. To sharpen their skills, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority is deploying two pieces of software to 89 airports across the nation.
The first, dubbed X-Ray Tutor, works like a video game — albeit one with far more serious consequences for those who score low. The software uses a bank of images of threat items such as guns, knives and improvised explosive devices, which it flashes on the screen in a variety of positions. The screener has 15 seconds to determine whether the bag being screened contains a threat item, explains Glenn Budgell, general manager of learning and performance at CATSA.
“You can imagine the side view of a gun: it’s relatively easy to interpret that type of image on a machine, but if you took that X-ray image and slowly rotated it, the X-ray image of that gun would look altogether different, and that becomes much more difficult to interpret,” he says. Other factors that increase the complexity of the task include superposition and bag complexity, he adds.
Budgell says the organization’s goal is to provide each screening officer with 20 minutes of X-Ray Tutor training a week. As the screener masters each level, he or she progresses to more challenging tasks. There are 12 levels to work through. Eventually, he says, it will be used to develop a certification test.
The other piece of software is the threat image projection system, or TIPS.
“As your bag goes through the X-ray machine, the image of your bag is flashed up on the screen for the screening officer,” says Budgell. “Instantaneously and on a random basis the software inserts a threat item — an electronic image of an item, it’s fictitious — into the image.”
The screening officer doesn’t know if it’s real or not at that point. He indicates he has identified a threat item and the machine confirms it. When the screener pushes the button, that image disappears and the system reminds them to look at the bag to see if it contains any real threat items. “Some screening officers may miss the threat item and they’re given immediate feedback,” says Budgell.
In Israel, where terrorism is just a fact of everyday life, security is not isolated by sectors, such as air, rail or sea, says Rafi Sela, a speaker at the security conference and president of AR Challenges, a consultancy with offices in the U.S. and Israel. Israeli firms, he says, have developed a number of innovative security technologies. BellMetrix Systems Inc., for example, has designed a voice over IP-based integrated mesh platform to screen travellers from the minute they arrive at the airport to the time they get on their flights. Gaia Sense has developed “smart locks” that monitor cargo for changes such as intrusion attempts. Another Israeli firm, Bsecure, has created what it says are tamper-resistant, copy-proof identity cards by metallizing plastic cards.
“The new platform that is being developed in Israel is basically taking the smartness of the network and putting it at the ends so it has a smart terminal at the gate, or at the entrance to the airport or subway or bus station or whatever,” says Sela.
For example, he explains, visitors to the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv must first pass by a security interviewer who scans their ticket and passport and asks a number of security questions. This information is scanned in and the airline is notified of their arrival. Then airport security checks to see if there are any court orders preventing them from
leaving the country. Their check-in with the airline is also recorded, so if they check in with one airline and then try to check in with another, the system will give off an alarm.
By the time you get to the gate, all their biometric information is there and is tested against a local database on a distributed network that is continually being updated, says Sela. “So within less than five minutes a jumbo airplane of 400 people can be scanned.”
One of the challenges Sela identified in improving transportation security is the inalterable reality that agencies all over the world refuse to share their information. “No matter how many national security advisors you put in place they will not change — not in Israel or anywhere else in the world,” he notes. “So what is the solution? The solution is very simple with this system. It says I have a secure server somewhere. You’re the CIA? I don’t care. Send me your list. You do the profiling or whatever you want to do.
“I take that list and I create the suspect list and distribute it constantly over the mashed network that is in every airport and border crossing and sea port everywhere in the world. I don’t have to submit it to the local agencies — the control for it is government control. The government can decide ‘this list is only for domestic airports’ or ‘I may share this list with the Canadians but that’s all,’ so the distribution part is a government agency decision.”
That’s exactly what Jeff Jonas designed his technology to do. Jonas, who is now an engineer at IBM, was CEO at Systems Research and Development, which was acquired by IBM in January 2005. Jonas is the brains behind what is now called IBM Relationship Resolution and IBM Anonymous Resolution, software that allows multiple parties to share and compare “shredded” or anonymized data such as names, addresses and passport numbers. The technology can be used for sharing the watch lists governments maintain to keep an eye on suspected terrorists or criminals.
“The U.S. government has people that would not be granted visas to the U.S. but the list is not public and they don’t send it around,” Jonas says. “That information is not given to the travel industry, so the risk is those people could sneak across the border and use their real identities to travel.”
At the same time, the travel industry doesn’t like the idea of sending its passenger data to the government for privacy reasons. His technology provides a way to share information without allowing human eyes to view the contents.
“It allows one to compare the information to see if there’s a match, but it’s only comparing the shredded data,” Jonas explains. It can do fuzzy matching, meaning names could be spelled differently — such as Jeff or Geoffrey — and while it can’t be decrypted or mathematically reversed, it can provide a pointer to matching data, he says. If it finds a match, the user can ask the list provider to look up the information and provide it. That could be either an automated or manual process, but in either case, the technology has built into it what Jonas calls an immutable audit log to prevent anyone from poking around in those lists or maliciously inserting a name. “Whatever a system or person would do would be logged so it can’t be erased,” he says. “I spent a lot of time with the privacy community to think through what kind of technologies are going to be used to find the bad guys and not unravel the Constitution.”
All users would need the “shredder,” the technology that anonymizes data, while someone — Jonas recommends a neutral third party such as a travel association — would have the engine that resolves the anonymous data.
While his technology doesn’t predict behaviour, Jonas admits there is a danger that if you look hard enough, you can find relationships among people you might never have expected — thus the six degrees of separation theory — or that have no real significance.
“This is a very important point,” he says. “It turns out as you get to larger sets of data that the degrees of separation become insignificant very quickly. You end up casting too wide a net if you’re going to three or four degrees in a population of data. So if the transportation worker who is working on the metal detector has a roommate who is somebody that shouldn’t be in the country, that would be problematic, that would be one degree, and there are scenarios where one degree can be important.”
The recent uproar over the U.S. government’s plans to hand over control of six ports to a Dubai-based firm once again turned the spotlight on the potential threat posed by lax port security, not just in the U.S., but in Canada as well.
To counter that threat, the port of Vancouver, which covers 247 km of coastline, trades $43 billion in goods with more than 90 trading economies and handles more than 900,000 revenue passengers annually, has a number of emerging technology initiatives in place, such as pilot projects involving RFID tags on container trucks.
“What we have in place (is) the same technology as airports in cruise passenger service,” says Graham Kee, director of port security. “We also use advanced access control, (digital video) cameras and good integrated security systems .We use technology in supply chain management as well.”
The port is currently piloting about 27,000 RFID cards with employees in an effort to not only increase security but speed up the process of moving goods.
“What we’re trying to do as much as possible is pre-clear and pre-authorize everything,” explains James Ireland, director of information services for the port. “These days we’re focused on trucks and drivers.”
That means when a truck approches, the driver can be cleared against a database that says he or she has the appropriate pre-approvals. If so, the gates at major entry and exit points can be opened automatically.
“We use that information to better understand at the time of the move if this truck coming in is one we recognize and if the driver is one we recognize,” says Ireland.
That system is in place at three major on-dock terminals. Plans are to expand it to two more.
Ireland admits more needs to be done on the people side in terms of increasing security. “That’s where biometrics comes in and we’re not there yet.”
The challenge of deploying biometric access cards for port workers is that there are many different employers of port personnel, says Kee.
“We don’t want more than one access card,” he says. “What we have to do is make sure we have consensus and that whatever product we pick integrates into everybody’s operations.
“We’ve evaluated a couple of technologies but new ones are emerging every day. But basically you can say it will be some sort of smart card.”
Kee expects that card to be deployed within two years.