Friday, October 5, 2012

GHC12: Securing Our Borders - Are we there yet?

Pamela K. Arya, A-T Solutions, has been actively involved with securing our borders. Some of their biggest concerns are IEDs, which are very cheap to make and deploy but very difficult to detect. These were first seen regularly in Northern Ireland, much less sophisticated than what we're seeing today in Iraq. Old IEDs were triggered with pressure so were often buried in the ground - easier to detect and monitor for. Newer ones can be set on the ground in a busy area and easily remotely detonated. Blocking signals doesn't work, as cell phones will also stop working!
Unfortunately, IEDs have become a part of the war on drugs in Mexico, often in the form of vehicle born IEDs. A-T Solutions will analyze post blast areas to help to determine what type of device was used and also will train local law enforcement about these devices. One of the best defenses against these attacks is still a dog - very difficult to trick a dog that's been well trained.

These types of devices also turn up in booby trapped homes, so there is special training for that as well. On the ground in Iraq, they've found that former farmers or other rural people can be better trained to find these IED devices. The theory is that by having a rural up bringing, these people are not used to tuning out noise or details that city dwellers need to do.

Her slides included images of post blast scenes and task forces that really bring home how real this problem is.

Laura McLay, Virginia Commonwealth University, has been working on aviation security and optimization, particularly focused on protecting nuclear material. Looking at aviation security, the first obvious thing we think of: hijackings! These have been a problem since the 1940s, with domestic hijackings peaking in the 1970s.   In response to a possible terrorist related plane crash (ended up just being an accident), Al Gore sponsored a bill creating CAPPS: Computer-Aided Passenger Prescreening System. 1998-2001, only selectee baggage was scanned. This worked well.

These machines that scan checked luggage weigh tons, take years to make and were only made by two companies, so after September 11, 2001 when all bags needed to be scanned - airport lobby floors had to be reinforced and two companies were very busy for awhile.

When a new device is being tested, it typically starts out in just four airports - and it's difficult (if not impossible) to keep those four airports a secret, so other methods need to be deployed.

Random screening doesn't seem to be an effective way to deter actual threats and thoroughly screening all passengers is not feasible, so more research needs to be done in this area to optimize this.

Susan Wilson, Cyber and DHS Solutions Operating Unit/Northrop Grumman Information Systems, Border Patrol Goals and Challenges. The Mexican border threats is well understood, but now we're having to watch the Canadian border more and the old  methods won't work with the layout of the land we have in the north.

If you're trying to protect with something obvious, like a wall, it's easier for people to come up with ways to work around it. The more hidden and subtle your border control is, the more effective it can be - but only combined with rapid response.  More agile solutions that can stay one step ahead are optimal.

One threat they actually see: balloons! So, watching the ground alone is not sufficient.

They would like to leverage open standards based components to integrate field-proven detection and assessment devices with a good user interface!

Questions for this panel ranged from how are environmental impacts considered (separate consulting firms all come together on the final solutions for border control), speed of screening at airports (focusing on doing this but maintaining security - not there, yet), agencies working together (there is just not enough funding for everyone to have all of this amazing equipment), to serving your country by protecting the borders.


Seniha EsenYuksel, University of Florida, was unable to present today due to a family emergency, but her slides will be included on the Grace Hopper Wiki.

This panel was moderated by Wendy Rannenberg.


This post syndicated from Thoughts on security, beer, theater and biking!