Safety, Security Turn High-Tech

New technology has enhanced airport security since 9-11


When terrorists crashed jumbo jets into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on 9/11, the economic impact sent the stock market tumbling and forced government agencies to rethink their approach to security.

Five years later, Bay Area companies like GE InVision Inc. of Newark, Fremont's SCM Microsystems and ILOG in Mountain View have seen their businesses grow along with the demand for a more secure physical and digital world.

One of the U.S. government's first priorities after commercial jets were hijacked and piloted to devastating crashes was to improve airport security. Congress rushed into law the Aviation and Transportation Security Act which required, among other things, that all U.S. airports scan every piece of passenger luggage for explosives.

For then-tiny InVision Technologies Inc., a specialist in explosive scanning technology, the congressional directive meant an exponential increase in sales as airports upgraded their security.

In short order, InVision was acquired by General Electric Co. and became the core of GE Security, a $2 billion business with homeland protection as its centerpiece.

"The InVision business had quite a spike in activity post 9/11 from the government buying 20 to 30 systems a year to many hundreds a year," said Michael Cavanaugh, chief marketing officer for GE Security's homeland protection. Now, "there are literally thousands of these systems all over the world."

But after 9/11, a sense of vulnerability permeated every aspect of government, civilian and business life -- not just airports. Federal agencies moved to improve security -- and secrecy -- around data housed in their computer networks. Some Bay Area technology companies found new customers in the federal government and an intelligence community with a fresh sense of urgency.

Hayward-based Authenex Inc., which makes computer network security systems that require users to pass through two or more layers of authentication before they can get access to a network, found the market it was seeking.

"Since 9/11 we've seen the government and enterprises (large businesses) pay more attention to information security. We've definitely seen more business," said Authenex vice president William Chen. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security -- which didn't even exist before 9/11 -- is one of Authenex's customers, as is the Department of Defense.

Network Chemistry, a Redwood City wireless network security firm, pulled in $5,904,000 in venture capital in the second quarter of 2005. Brian de Haaff, a vice president at the company, said changes in regulations within the federal government have brought in a steady flow of contracts since 9/11.

"The growth has been tremendous," de Haaff said.

His company produces hardware and programs that monitor wireless networks for rogue access points and unauthorized devices. If someone walks into a Department of Energy building with an unknown laptop and tries to hook into the network, de Haaff said, the system fools the computer into thinking it has a signal while blocking it from accessing anything. Meanwhile, the system alerts an administrator to the problem.

"Organizations have a hard time controlling data communications," he said. "The old perimeter is no longer there. It's basically Swiss cheese."

David Wagner, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, said the military's interest in network security has been on the rise as more government and commercial systems running power plants and other potential terrorist targets become automated.

"Having critical infrastructure up and running is a national security issue," he said.

ILOG Inc. of Mountain View, the U.S. division of ILOG SA of France, sells business analytics software now widely used for intelligence purposes.

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