Homeland Security’s Effect on System Innovation

As you glide high above the traffic in your Hummer, you check once more on your GPS to make sure you’re heading in the right direction for your 9:00 appointment. Thank goodness for the GPS, since the MapQuest directions you downloaded were outdated and didn’t show the new traffic pattern. Before arriving, better check the Blackberry to see if there have been any updates to the meeting agenda.

Many technologies that have become commonplace or will be in the near future—commercial use of satellites, GPS, the Internet, wireless technology—have their origins, or certainly a good bit of their development, in government research and development programs. Government R&D has had a major impact on our lives, and in recent years that impact has expanded.

Since 2002, the government has committed approximately $121 billion to the homeland security effort, with many billions of dollars of new spending going to military and non-military R&D. In fact, not since 1968 and the Apollo program have we seen an equivalent level of investment in science and R&D.

How has the redirection of government focus and investment impacted the security industry? The jury is still out on the extent and catalog of all the effects, but there are some definite observable trends and innovations that have come to the fore.

Expanding the IT Infrastructure
Nearly every aspect of information technology upon which we rely today—the Internet, Web browsers, public key cryptography for secure credit card transactions, parallel database systems, high-performance computer graphics, portable communications such as cell phones, broadband, and last mile—bears the stamp of federally supported research.

TCP/IP, upon which many of today’s new homeland security innovations are built, had its start at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Internet and the de facto TCP/IP standard have provided a means to migrate and integrate an ever-increasing number of powerful security applications onto network-based command and control operations that are centrally located, but also remotely situated anywhere the network extends.

Too Much Information
The terrible events of 9/11 brought to light a failure in information gathering and a failure to extract sufficient and timely intelligence from what information was available at the federal level. In a few words, there was a failure of analysis because of an inability to correlate disparate types and sources of information. It is interesting and instructive to note that the FBI’s computers and IT capabilities were found to be badly outdated in the days after the attacks on the New York and Washington, DC.

Of the many initiatives, programs and innovations coming out of post-9/11 activities, some of the most interesting for us in the security industry have to be the changes and improvements the Department of Homeland Security has undertaken in collecting and analyzing information.

The DHS now employs cutting-edge technology to acquire and correlate multi-source data and to create actionable intelligence. While some would disagree, in recent years it seems like “Big Brother” has become the only entity with the capability to effectively stop potential terror attacks. By exploiting a web of information collection and correlation, the DHS is making the country safer.

Extracting Insight from the Din
Throw a pebble into a pond and the wave pattern is easy to discern. Throw a pebble into the surf, on the other hand, and you may see no difference at all. Extracting actionable intelligence from vast repositories of information is like finding a pebble’s ripple in the ocean—it’s no small task, and it requires advanced analytic capabilities, whether you are seeking terrorists or critical business/security patterns.

The advances the DHS has made in locating and tracking terrorists are now making their way into the security industry in the form of rule-based systems or analytics. Analytics expose previously hidden clues that when correlated with other results and presented using advanced data visualization techniques can be employed to reveal subtle patterns that would have otherwise gone undetected.

To appreciate the impact of these adaptive visualization technologies (AVT), consider the national weather map shown on the nightly news. Temperature data is received from thousands of points all across the nation and ends up in a database that can be displayed in many different ways. If the raw data were to be displayed on the TV screen, it would look like a sea of numbers and would require much study to decipher. If, however, the temperature data is converted to colors before it is displayed, even subtle temperature patterns become immediately recognizable to the untrained eye.

These same technologies are directly applicable to the security and business databases we all rely on, and they are beginning to find their way into the best-in-class security product suites. At this time, when most of us hear analytics, our minds go to intelligent video, motion tracking and the like. But it is far more than that.

From Government to Industry
As we’ve seen, the advent and widespread dissemination of the Internet has created the platform upon which many command and control systems, relying on increasing numbers of software analytics programs, are now running. The post-9/11 advances made by the DHS and its member agencies were not powered by “big bang” revolutionary innovations, but rather a series of evolutionary steps in which existing resources—the Internet, databases, analytical capabilities—were brought together and constantly improved upon to create new, much more powerful capabilities to extract intelligence from multiple sources.

The government learned and developed the essence of good command and control capabilities: rules-based systems that collect, analyze and correlate information from multiple sources. For example, it is now possible to locate potential terrorists not by combing through mountains of videotapes or relying on a chance bus driver sighting, but by keying in on an ATM transaction or a hotel check-in, or even a voice intercept in which key words are repeatedly used. That is, correlating people and databases. Once a suspect is located, then video resources, combined with biometric analytics, can be brought to bear to track the suspect and collect more intelligence on what they are doing, who they are meeting, and who they are communicating with.

Only a short while ago, all these sources of information were separate and the dots were rarely connected without lucky and often dogged human intervention. We now have the capability to collect useable information from all this data. The challenge is finding out how to transform this information into knowledge. The key is to correlate data from multiple sources by unleashing computer power and analysis upon it. Once there is sufficient correlation, the most precious and scarce resource, human intellect, can be employed to create wisdom from what until then had been inert information. Wisdom sets the stage for action.

Effect on Integration and Management
Painstakingly and with tremendous commitment, the DHS is now capable of catching terrorists and criminals by employing database management. The security industry is taking its cues from how the government uses existing technology and information in new and more effective ways. Certainly there will be many impressive new innovations to come, but to date the innovation has been more in integration, tying existing systems together and using the tremendous capability of network-based accessible data to correlate information and create wisdom. As our government and the nation have found, by failing to bring together seemingly unrelated systems and information, you risk wasting time, money, and lives.

Network-based command and control systems based on constantly improving analytical software can be applied to reduce retail shrinkage, foil casino cheating, stop other commercial crimes, and improve office, hotel, and resort security. The list of other potential security and non-security uses goes on:

  • ITS: Vehicle & pedestrian traffic management, airport gate management, automated emergency services dispatch, infrastructure planning, intelligent signage
  • Retail: Shopping trend analysis, in-store population and traffic analysis, key customer CRM, inventory management, buying behavior, theft/fraud behavior and avoidance, targeted interest-based marketing
  • Civil government: Population analysis, evacuation planning and management, emergency resource management, criminal behavior and trend analysis, infrastructure and services planning, international threat tracking, early detection of terrorist activities and defense probing
  • Healthcare: Early disease/CBR threat detection and effects prediction, cluster analysis, countermeasure deployment planning
  • Banking: Fraud profiling, terrorist network financing, embezzlement

Constant Innovation
Federal R&D spending has increased significantly over the past few years and will likely remain high for the near future. In our charged international landscape, government R&D for homeland security will continue to bring us innovations that, though unreachable at first, will eventually permeate our lives and our businesses.

As you step down from the Hummer, a quick check of your watch, made accurate to the second by pinging the nuclear clock deep in the Rocky Mountains, shows three minutes to spare. You whisper silent thanks for the city’s advanced traffic control system, employing unmanned overhead CCTV drones to monitor traffic congestion, which got you to your destination just in time. Reaching the door of the building, your approved visitor status is confirmed in seconds with a quick iris scan, data saved from your last visit. Settled in and waiting for the meeting to start, a quick thumbprint scan provides the necessary password to fire up your laptop and shoot an e-mail back to the office: All is well and you’ll be back in a few hours.

Ed Thompson is vice president of product management for DVTel.

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