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10/31/2004 - SIRTI Showcases Homeland Security Research

Homeland Security was the umbrella topic for SIRTI's eighth Technology Showcase. Scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL), Washington State University (WSU), and Next IT discussed their research projects. Carl Hauser, PhD WSU School of Engineering and Computer Science talked about GridStat; Doug Lemon, PhD PNNL Homeland Security Initiative Leader discussed several technologies developed at PNNL, and Fred Brown CEO of Next IT demonstrated their "Next Security" technology ActiveSentry.

As its name indicates, GridStat is technology designed for the electric power industry. As Dr. Hauser explained, there are three major components in the electric power industry -- the actual generation of electricity, the wholesale transmission of the power, and the sale of electricity to the end user. GridStat addresses problems in the wholesale transmission portion. Specifically GridStat is "middleware", a class of software that helps manage complex distributed communications. This means communications between computer operating systems, network technologies, hardware architecture, and programming languages.

Today's electric power may be sent long distances from the point of generation to the end user, according to Hauser, and may pass through a number of different and possibly incompatible monitoring and control applications on the way. In order to identify and correct a problem before it happens, middleware like GridStat provides a common service platform to inform human operators of wide area power grid status -- if there is an impending problem or if all is well. GridStat also alleviates the need for sophisticated distributed systems programming knowledge on the part of power engineers.

GridStat has a trust management mechanism that allows one to collect evidence about another's trustworthiness. This trust is managed according to trust policies set up between organizations, and by managing traditional mechanisms for access control and denial of service protection found in computer security systems. This means that GridStat's trust management provides greater network security than that provided by conventional integrity, confidentiality, and authentication methods.

The WSU team has been working on GridStat for about four years. They now have a prototype that they are testing. The WSU scientists will use VPnet to test their prototype through a demonstration project with Avista.

Homeland security research and development at PNNL occupies a huge portion of their budget. Funding for general science and technology of national security issues takes up nearly half of PNNL's $600 million budget. PNNL's work falls into four broad categories: infrastructure protection, emergency preparedness, information analysis or early detection, and border and transportation security. For the SIRTI Showcase, Dr. Lemon discussed two technologies within the border and transportation security category. The technologies were a portable acoustical inspection device (AID) that "looks" into closed containers and a holographic imaging technology used for personnel scanning.

AID technology is embedded in a PASS (Product Acoustical Signature System). The whole thing looks like a hand held electric hair dryer, and it shoots ultrasonic signals through liquids or solids in sealed containers. Over 100 unique acoustic signatures are stored in the attached PDA including 11 liquid chemical warfare agents. The speed of return from the signal determines the signature of the contained material.

AID can examine containers with diameters of less than a foot to those of eight feet --- about the size of a tanker truck. The technology can determine if any other material might be hidden within the liquid or solid --- for example drugs or explosives.

Not only is the device small, it is easy to use. Lemon says a two-hour training session is all that is required from a field user.

PNNL's personnel scanning technology uses millimeter-wave holography to form high resolution images. The system projects high-frequency, low-power radio waves onto both the front and back of the person being screened. Sensors capture the reflected rays and send them to a high speed image processing computer where they are arrayed into a three-dimensional form.

The method can detect metal, ceramics, plastics, and explosives. The device may see just a little too well because all of the parts of the body can be seen. The privacy issue has yet to be worked out.

Both technologies have been licensed and some commercial activity is underway. The prospective market for these technologies is huge.

Spokane's Next IT uses unorthodox approaches to solving information management problems using artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Fred Brown discussed and demonstrated ActiveSentry, a real-time desktop monitor that guards against insider security threats. ActiveSentry, like all of Next IT's software applications, is based on proprietary core technology -- a functional presence engine -- called "The Brain."

The Brain is a stimulus response engine: it takes input from multiple sources and uses its engine and subsequent training to determine the best response. The Brain uses training instead of coding so non programmers can teach it how to respond to a situation. The Brain has the ability to parse data. It can read and understand text; the parsing engine can recognize words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. The Brain then analyzes word groups to determine concepts. The Brain uses lexical analysis to recognize patterns in order to detect important information which might include social security numbers, bank numbers, or key phrases. To get conversational context, The Brain uses a multiple wild card system which is able to regress and simplify concepts.

ActiveSentry is specifically designed for insider threat to security. ActiveSentry monitors every keystroke and every active application to make sure employees are not misusing proprietary or sensitive information. The trainable facility is used to determine and differentiate between what is "good behavior" and what is "bad behavior." If bad behavior occurs, ActiveSentry can respond with real-time proactive steps to block the action. It might shut down the computer, shut down the application, alarm a security officer, or give the user a warning. If the security breach is sufficient, ActiveSentry creates a detailed record of everything the user does, stores all the action with date/time stamps, and secures the data for foolproof evidentiary material.

The Brain makes ActiveSentry possible because it only stores data that is appropriate and its situational understanding greatly reduces false positives. ActiveSentry training allows each company to monitor specific inputs and to respond appropriately based on their own security policies.

Billie Moreland
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