Security - what has changed?

August 2009 News & Events

I enjoy listening to the Golden Oldies on Radio 702 over a weekend. One particular weekend the host dedicated part of the broadcast to the year 1982 and referred to the Falklands War. The same week I saw a movie set in Albuquerque, New Mexico and also visited the IFSEC South Africa Securex show in Sandton, where one of the exhibitors was full of enthusiasm for his latest facial recognition system.

What links these events? Well, in May 1982 I had the privilege of attending an international training course (16 countries represented from Europe (East and West), the Far East, Asia, South and North America and two from Africa – South Africa and Egypt) on the physical protection of nuclear facilities and materials at Sandia National Laboratories.

During the early part of the course, the British task force which had set sail from the Royal Naval base in Portsmouth, where I was born and raised, was poised to retake the islands from the Argentinians, who had invaded them in early April 1982 – so naturally I was very interested in the operation. Many of the trainees on the course came from a military background and so many a discussion took place on the merits of the conflict and the final outcome.

Secondly, the backdrop to the movie was the Sandia Mountain range, which I had visited both during the course and on several return visits to Albuquerque. The last link was the facial recognition system seen at the security show, which reminded me of a facial recognition system seen during my time at Sandia. This was developed for the US Navy during the Vietnam War – not to recognise the bad guys but to recognise the good guys.

Sailors used to go ashore for 'recreation' purposes and some would get involved in fights and be badly beaten, so much so that they could not be identified by the sentry, from their ID photograph, when they returned to their ship. The facial recognition features used in this system included, distance between the eyes, depth of the eye sockets, shape of the cheekbones and the length of the jaw line – not much different from today’s facial recognition systems. Other biometric systems seen on the course were fingerprint, speech, handwriting, hand geometry, and retinal, again using similar techniques as today’s system.

Before issuing an operating certificate for a nuclear power plant, the local nuclear regulatory authority has to be satisfied that the plant is not only safe but also secure. To satisfy this requirement all security measures have to undergo comprehensive evaluation in terms of threat analysis, facility characterisation, logic tree analysis, path analysis, and concept formulation using various techniques including mathematical models.

Although highly complicated and time consuming and not necessary in normal security applications, the fundamentals remain the same. That is, the integration of technology, physical barriers, people and procedures to form a physical protection system (PPS) – that is, the establishment of measures for the protection of people, information and property against theft, espionage or attack by hostile persons, influences and actions using a synergistic approach in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The objectives of the PPS being to deter would be perpetrators, detect them should they continue with an attack, delay them using additional barriers along their intrusion path and destroy or neutralise the threat. Sound familiar? In addition, the basic elements of physical barriers, entry control (access control equipment, metal detectors, etc), surveillance, lighting, alarm reporting and intrusion detection systems are still the 'same' – for example, all intrusion detection systems rely on some form of sensing device to detect a change in a physical stimulus and turn it into a signal which can be measured or recorded. It would appear that the more things change, so they remain to me the same. So what has changed?

Thanks to the digital age, we can now process information faster, more accurately and bring it right onto our desks. Returning to the facial recognition example, earlier systems were limited in application in that the subject’s face had to be well lit and still (like posing for a photograph). Today’s systems can now recognise a face in a moving crowd. Emerging trends include three-dimensional face recognition and skin texture analysis. This move to high tech solutions (IP networks are changing the face of security – for example, integration of security system onto one operating platform) will increase the complexity of the technical security measures applied, but it will also mean that higher skill levels of the installer and system operator will be required (something that has not changed significantly) – with the concomitant increase in cost.

Likewise, the basic security guard and response units will need to be better educated, better trained, better motivated and better paid as there is a real perception that these persons lack cognitive skills, are unreliable and are of questionable honesty – with collusion in criminal acts and corruption being reported on a daily basis. As I have stated before, without competent operators and maintenance technicians and well-trained motivated guards and response personal, guided by comprehensive operating procedures, even the best technology will be futile.

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