Category Archives: Biometrics

11 Body Parts Defense Researchers Will Use to Track You

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier…
. . .
wired.com | Jan 25, 2013By Noah Shachtman and Robert Beckhusen
The Ear

Cell phones that can identify you by how you walk. Fingerprint scanners that work from 25 feet away. Radars that pick up your heartbeat from behind concrete walls. Algorithms that can tell identical twins apart. Eyebrows and earlobes that give you away. A new generation of technologies is emerging that can identify you by your physiology. And unlike the old crop of biometric systems, you don’t need to be right up close to the scanner in order to be identified. If they work as advertised, they may be able to identify you without you ever knowing you’ve been spotted.

Biometrics had a boom after 9/11. Gobs of government money poured into face and iris recognition systems; the Pentagon alone spent nearly $3 billion in five years, and the Defense Department was only one of many federal agencies funneling cash in the technologies. Civil libertarians feared the worst as face-spotters were turned on crowds of citizens in the hopes of  catching a single crook.

But while the technologies proved helpful in verifying identities at entry points from Iraq to international airports, the hype — or panic — surrounding biometrics never quite panned out. Even after all that investment, scanners still aren’t particularly good at finding a particular face in the crowd, for example; variable lighting conditions and angles (not to mention hats) continue to confound the systems.

Eventually, the biometrics market — and the government enthusiasm for it — cooled off. The technological development has not. Corporate and academic labs are continuing to find new ways to ID people with more accuracy, and from further away. Here are 11 projects.

Above:

The Ear

My, what noticeable ears you have. So noticeable in fact that researchers are exploring ways to detect the ears’ features like they were fingerprints. In 2010, a group of British researchers used a process called “image ray transform” to shoot light rays at human ears, and then repeat an algorithm to draw an image of the tubular-shaped parts of the organ. The curved edges around the rim of the ear is a characteristic — and most obvious — example. Then, the researchers converted the images into a series of numbers marking the image as your own. Finally, it’s just a matter of a machine scanning your ears again, and matching it up to what’s already stored in the system, which the researchers were able to do accurately 99.6 percent of the time. In March of 2012, a pair of New Delhi scientists also tried scanning ears using Gabor filters — a kind of digital image processor similar to human vision — but were accurate to a mere 92 to 96.9 percent, according to a recent survey (pdf) of ear biometric research.

It may even be possible to develop ear-scanning in a way that makes it more reliable than fingerprints. The reason is because your fingerprints can callous over when doing a lot of hard work. But ears, by and large, don’t change much over the course of a lifespan. There’s a debate around this, however, and fingerprinting has a much longer and established history behind it. A big question is whether ear-scanning will work given different amounts of light, or when covered (even partially) by hair or jewelry. But if ear-scanners get to the point of being practical, then they could possibly work alongside fingerprinting instead of replacing them. Maybe in the future we’ll see more extreme ear modification come along as a counter-measure.

Photo: Menage a Moi/Flickr

Odor

Odor

In the early and mid-2000s, the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers at Darpa dabbled in something called the “Unique Signature Detection Project,” which sought to explore ways to detect people by their scent, and maybe even spot and identify individuals based on their distinct smells. Darpa’s work ended in 2008. The following year, the Department of Homeland Security fielded a solicitation for research in ways that human scent can indicate whether someone “might be engaging in deception,” specifically at airports and other ports of entry.

Odor detection is still just a research project at the moment. The science is intricate, involving more than 300 chemical compounds that produce human odor. Our personal stinks can change depending on everything from what we eat to our environment. But it may be possible to distinguish our “primary odor” — separate from “secondary” odors based on our diet and “tertiary” odors based on things like soaps and shampoos. The primary odor is the one linked to our genetics, and there have already been experiments with mice, which have been found to produce distinct scents unique to individuals. In 2007, the government’s counter-terror Technical Support Working Group even started a program aimed at collecting and storing human odors for the military’s dog handlers. Dogs, of course, have been used to track people by smell for decades, and are believed to distinguish between humans based on our genetic markers.

Photo: Cabaret Voltaire/Flickr

Heartbeat

Heartbeat

Your chest moves, just a little, every time your heart beats or your lungs take in air. For years, researchers have been monkeying with radars that are sensitive enough to to detect those minuscule chest movements — but powerful enough to do it from hundreds of yards away. Even reinforced concrete walls and electromagnetic shielding won’t stop these radars, or so claim the researchers at the small, Arizona-based defense contractor VAWD Engineering, who are working on such a system for Darpa’s “Biometrics-at-a-distance” program.

The key is the Doppler Effect — the changes in frequency when one object moves relative to another. We hear it all the time, when a fire engine passes by, siren blaring. VAWD says their vehicle-mounted Sense Through Obstruction Remote Monitoring System (STORMS) can pick up even small fluctuations of chests.

STORM (pictured above) “can be used to detect, classify and identify the specific cardiac and pulmonary modulations of a… person of interest,” a company document boasts. By itself, a heartbeat or a breathing rate won’t serve as a definitive biometric. But combine it with soft biometrics (how someone subtly sways when he or she stands) and you’ve got a unique signature for that person that can’t be hidden or covered up.

VAWD says these signature will help improve disaster relief and medical care by providing a “reliable, real time medical status equal to or better than the current devices, while increasing the mobility and comfort of the patient.”

But the company also notes that its system performs “automated human life-form target tracking” even when construction materials like “Afghan mud-huts” are in the way. STORM “has already been deployed by the United States Army on one of its most advanced ground vehicles,” the company adds.

Does any of that sound like hospital work to you?

Illustration: Yale University/Wikimedia

Photo: VAWD Engineering

Voice

Most people are likely to be familiar with voice readers on gadgets like the iPhone. But what if there was software that could quickly analyze the voice of thousands, and even use those voices to identify specific people?

Russian biometrics firm Speech Technology Center — known as SpeechPro in the U.S. — has the technology. Called VoiceGrid, the system is able to automatically recognize a person’s voice as their own, provided your voice is pre-recorded in a database and can be recalled by the computer. The company has also developed a version for “large city, county, state or national system deployments.”

It’s seen use in Mexico, according to Slate, “where it is being used by law enforcement to collect, store, and search hundreds of thousands of voice-prints.” The National Security Agency has taken interest in similar technology. So has the FBI. A 2012 presentation from the National Institute of Standards and Technology — with the assistance of the FBI — also speculated on potential uses including identifying and clearing people ‘involved in illegal activities,” locating serial killers and identifying arms traffickers (.pdf). Iarpa, the intelligence community’s research agency, has also been looking into ways to solve some of its problems: audio interference mainly. In 2011, the agency concluded its Biometric Exploitation Science and Technology Program (or BEST), which made “speaker recognition advances which included improving robustness to noise, reverberation, and vocal effort, and by automatically detecting these conditions in audio channels,” spokesperson Schira Madan told Danger Room in an email. But we wonder if it’ll detect autotune.

The Iris

The Iris

Imagine a scanner than can look deep inside your eye — from 10 feet away. Actually, you don’t have to think that hard. The technology is already here. Scanners have been developed that can focus in and scan irises from a distance of 10 feet, such the IOM PassPort, developed by government contractor SRI International. The company promises the machine can scan irises at a rate of 30 people per minute — like in high-traffic areas such as airports and train stations. SRI also claims it can see through contact lenses and glasses.

But the longer-range scanners could also see other uses, aside from airports. U.S. troops field existing, short-range and handheld iris scanners to build databases of Afghan eyes as part of a plan to use biometric data to tell civilians apart from insurgents. The Department of Homeland Security has tested iris scanners at a Border Patrol station along the Texas-Mexico border. The FBI has been working on an iris database for federal prisoners, and Google uses them at company data centers. But these systems can be fussy, and require that the targets don’t move too much.

There might be another way. The Pentagon’s scientists at Darpa have funded a research project at Southern Methodist University to develop cameras that can automatically zoom-in and scan irises, kinda like what happened to Tom Cruise in Minority Report — and without being blocked by pesky obstructions like eyelashes and glare from light. But another problem is that iris scanners are not the most secure means of identifying people. In July 2012, a group of researchers from the U.S. and Spain discovered a way to spoof the scanners by duplicating iris images stored in databases and creating synthetic copies. That means someone could conceivably steal your eyes, in a way.

Illustration: Air Force

Periocular

Periocular

Spotting someone by their irises is one of the best-developed biometric techniques there is. But Savvides and his Carnegie Mellon colleagues think there may be an equally-promising approach in the area around the eye — also known as the “periocular” region.

The “periocular region has the most dense and the most complex biomedical features on human face, e.g. contour, eyelids, eyeball, eyebrow, etc., which could all vary in shape, size and color,” they wrote in a 2011 paper. (.pdf) “Biologically and genetically speaking, a more complex structure means more ‘coding processing’ going on with fetal development, and therefore more proteins and genes involved in the determination of appearance. That is why the periocular region should be the most important facial area for distinguishing people.”

And unlike other biometrics — the face, for instance — the periocular region stays remarkably stable as a person ages. “The shape and location of eyes remain largely unchanged while the mouth, nose, chin, cheek, etc., are more susceptible to changes given a loosened skin,” the researchers note. In other words, this is a marker for life.

Nearby, Savvides and his colleagues think they’ve found a second biometric: the shape of the eyebrow. Face-scanners are sometimes thrown off when people smile or frown. But the eyebrow shape is “particularly resilient to certain (but not all) expression variations,” the researchers note in a separate, yet-to-be-published paper. And the eyebrow can still be seen, even when the subject has most of his or her face covered.

What’s not fully clear is how the eyebrow biometric responds to threading, shaving or waxing. Saavides, who responded to tons of questions about his research, says there’s no fullproof means to avoid this kind of spoofing. But Saavides is also working on sensors that can analyze multiple facial cues and features, while incorporating algorithms that detect the possibility of a person changing one or two of them. A pair of plucked eyebrows might be a weak match compared to the bushy ones the computer has on file — but the computer could also be smart enough to recognize they’ve been plucked.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Long-Range Fingerprint Scanners

Most fingerprint scanners today require physical contact, but constantly being soaked with finger-oil and dirt can also muck-up the machines. For that reason, among others, one developer is working on a scanner that may one day read your fingerprints at a distance of 20 feet.

But first, scanners with a 20-foot distance haven’t hit the market quite yet. One machine called the AIRprint, made by Alabama firm Advanced Optical Systems, has a range of nine feet, and uses two 1.3 megapixel cameras that receives light in different wavelengths: one horizontally polarized, and the other vertically polarized. To sort out the different wavelengths, a device beams light at your fingerprints, which bounce back into the lenses, which then combines the separate wavelengths into a clear picture. A spin-off company called IDair also has a commercial scanner that reaches up to six feet and is marketed toward “security personnel.” IDair’s 20-foot-range machine is currently in development, and is described as functioning similar to satellite imagery.

The military is reportedly an interested customer. The MIT Technology Review surmised that Marines may use them for scanning fingerprints from inside the relative safety of an armored vehicle or behind a blast wall. It beats exposing yourself to the possibility of a suicide bomb attack. For the civilian market, that seems better than pressing your fingertips against a greasy scanner, if you’re comfortable with the idea of having your prints scanned from far away.

Photo: LetTheCardsFall/Flickr

Gait

Gait

Even before 9/11, researchers were floating that notion that you could pick out someone by how he or she walks. And after the Towers fell, Darpa made gait recognition one of the cornerstones of its infamous Total Information Awareness counterterror program.

The problem is that gait can be kind of hard to spot. A briefcase or a bum leg prevents the recognition system from getting a clear view. So filming someone walk didn’t make for a particularly reliable biometric system. Plus, the same person may have multiple gaits — one for walking, and another for running, say.

But the spread of smartphones has opened up a new way of identifying someone’s stride. Androids and iPhones all have accelerometers — sensors that measure how far, how fast, and with how much force an object moves.

“By using the accelerometer sensor in the cell phone, we are able to capture a person’s walking pattern. As it turns out, these patterns are very good biometric traits for people identification. Because it does not require any special devices, the gait biometrics of a subject can even be captured without him or her knowing,” write Carnegie Mellon University professor Marios Savvides and his colleagues in a recent paper. (.pdf)

In a small, preliminary study, Savvides and his fellow researchers at the CyLab Biometrics Center claim they were able to get a 99.4% verification rate with the system when the subjects were walking. 61% of the time, they were even able to match someone’s fast-paced gait to their slower one. In other words, you can run…. but with a phone in your pocket, it’s going to be harder to hide.

Photo: sfllaw/Flickr

Sweat

Sweat

The Army wants to see some sweat. No, not workout sweat, but sweat that can betray hostile intentions. In 2010, the Army awarded a nearly $70,000 contract to California security firm Irvine Sensors Corporation to develop software that can use sensors to recognize at “abnormal perspiration and changes in body temperature.” The idea was to determine “harmful intent in such military applications as border patrol, stand-off interrogation, surveillance and commercial applications” including surveillance at businesses and “shopping areas.” It’s a bit out there, and still very much in the research stage, but makes a certain kind of sense. Elevated stress levels could give a suspect away when scanned by hyperspectral sensors that read changes in body temperature.

Though a reliable system will have to work in combination with other biometric signals: threatening body movements, facial expressions, iris scans — all of these will also have to be factored into determining whether someone is up to no good. The Army contract, dubbed Image Analysis for Personal Intent, also sought to develop sensors that read these signs from a distance of nearly 150 feet. Perhaps a bit optimistic. But in 2002, a group of scientists in Minnesota managed to determine if military recruits were engaging in deception by scanning for changes in temperature around their eyes. So if you’re at all freaked out about the idea of sweat-scanners, now might be time for a cold shower.

Photo: Army

Advanced Face Recognition

Advanced Face Recognition

Most machines that scan and recognize your face require taking a good, clean look. But now researchers are working on replacing them with scanners that only need a few fragmentary snapshots at much longer ranges than ever before.

One machine that can do it is being developed by defense contractor Progeny Systems Corporation, called the “Long Range, Non-cooperative, Biometric Tagging, Tracking and Location” system. Once a person of interest is spotted, the system captures a 2D image of the person’s face before converting it into 3D. Then, once the image has been converted and filed in a database, it can be quickly recalled when the system spots the person for a second time. That’s because 3D reduces the number of pixels needed to analyze the image, speeding up the process and allowing the system to identify a person with a mere glance. The company also claims the machine works at more than 750 feet.

But a face alone may not be enough to recognize a person with a machine. Everything from lighting conditions to distance can make it harder to get a clear picture, especially if the person being scanned is on the move, in a crowd, or ducking in and out of buildings. Using 3D models makes it easier, but the technology will likely have to be combined with “soft biometrics” like an individual’s gender, height, weight, skin color and even tattoos.

Slightly creepy, no? Well, it gets creepier, like the group of Swiss scientists working on scanning facial features to detect your emotions. Developers at Carnegie Mellon University have also developed a mobile app called PittPatt –which has since been acquired by Google — that can scan your face and match it up with images you’ve shared over the internet, all in less than a minute.

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Rapid DNA Testing

Rapid DNA Testing

It used to be that DNA testing took months to perform, from the time when a DNA sample was picked up on a swab, to analyzing it and creating a DNA profile. Now there are machines that can do it in less than 90 minutes, and the Pentagon wants them.

This month, researchers at the University of North Texas are beginning to test a $250,000 machine for the Defense and Justice Departments, and the Department of Homeland Security, so that “casualties and enemies killed in action can be quickly identified in the field,” according to the Biometrics Research Group. But according to the October issue of Special Operations Technology magazine, rapid DNA testing systems co-developed by defense giant Northrop Grumman had already been delivered to “unspecified government customers” beginning back in August. One of those customers is believed to be the FBI. California company IntegenX also has a portable rapid-DNA machine that can analyze molecules taken off everything from clothing to cigarette butts. There’s a simple reason why police are so interested. For a burglar who’s breaking into houses and leaving a DNA trail, the machines could clue-in faster than the burglar is able to continue the spree.

Photo: US Navy

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7 Technologies That Will Make It Easier for the Next President to Hunt and Kill You

wired | Nov 6, 2012

by Noah Shachtman

Robotic assassination campaigns directed from the Oval Office. Cyber espionage programs launched at the president’s behest. Surveillance on an industrial scale. The White House already has an incredible amount of power to monitor and take out individuals around the globe. But a new wave of technologies, just coming online, could give those powers a substantial upgrade. No matter who wins the election on Tuesday, the next president could have an unprecedented ability to monitor and end lives from the Oval Office.

The current crop of sensors, munitions, control algorithms, and data storage facilities have helped make the targeted killing of American adversaries an almost routine affair. Nearly 3,000 people have been slain in the past decade by American drones, for instance. The process will only get easier, as these tools of war become more compact, more powerful, and more precise. And they will: Moore’s Law applies in the military and intelligence realms almost as much as it does in the commercial sphere.

For decades, political scientists have wrung their hands about an “Imperial Presidency,” an executive branch with powers far beyond its original, Constitutional limits. This new hardware and software could make the old concerns look more outdated than horses and bayonets, to coin a phrase. Here are seven examples.

Photo: François Proulx/Flickr

Patuxent River, MARYLAND - JULY 31:. Umanned Aircraft Systems Media Day Tuesday Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Maryland. (Photo by Jared Soares For Wired.com)

Drone Autonomy

There’s a standard response to skeptics of the killer flying robots known as drones that goes something like this: Every time a drone fires its weapon, a human being within a chain of command (of other human beings) made that call. The robot never decides for itself who lives and who dies. All of that is true. It’s just that some technical advances, both current and on the horizon, are going to make it less true.

On one end of the spectrum is the Switchblade, AeroVironment’s mashup of drone and missile. Weighing under 6 pounds and transportable in a soldier’s backpack, the drone carries a function whereby an operator can pre-program its trajectory using GPS; When it reaches the target, it explodes, without its operator commanding it to. On the other end is the Navy’s experimental UCLASS, which by 2019 ought to yield an armed drone with a 62-foot wingspan that can take off and land from an aircraft carrier at the click of a mouse, its flight path selected earlier while Naval aviators go get a snack. The Navy has no plans to let the UCLASS release its weapons except at a human’s direction, but its autonomy goes beyond anything the military currently possesses.

All of this stands to change drone warfare — ironically, by changing human behavior. As humans get used to incremental expansions in drone autonomy, they’ll expect more functionality to come pre-baked. That might erode the currently-rigid edict that people must conduct the strikes; at a minimum, it will free human operators to focus more of their attention on conducting attacks. The first phase of that challenge has arrived: the Army confirmed this week that a unit in eastern Afghanistan is now using the Switchblade.

— Spencer Ackerman

Photo: Jared Soares/Wired

argus

‘City-Sized’ Surveillance

Predator-class drones are today’s spy tools of choice; the military and CIA have hundreds of them keeping watch over Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Mexico, and elsewhere. But the Predators and the larger Reapers are imperfect eyes in the sky. They rely on cameras that offer, as the military cliche goes, a “soda straw” view of the battlefield — maybe a square kilometer, depending on how high the drone flies.

Tomorrow’s sensors, on the other hand, will be able to monitor an area 10 times larger with twice the resolution. The Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (“Argus, for short) is a collection of 92 five-megapixel cameras. In a single day, it collects six petabytes of video — the equivalent of 79.8 years’ worth of HD video.

Argus and other “Wide Area Airborne Surveillance” systems have their limitations. Right now, the military doesn’t have the bandwidth to pull all that video off a drone in real time. Nor it does it have the analysts to watch all the footage; they’re barely keeping up with the soda straws. Plus, the camera bundles have had some problems sharing data with some of the military’s other spy systems.

But interest in the Wide Area Airborne Surveillance systems is growing — and not just among those looking to spy overseas. The Department of Homeland Security recently put out a call for a camera array that could keep tabs on 10 square kilometers at once, and tested out another WAAS sensor along the border. Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada Corporation, a well-traveled intelligence contractor, is marketing its so-called “Vigilant Stare” sensor (.pdf), which it says will watch “city-sized fields of regard” for domestic “counter-narcotics” and “civil unrest” missions. Keep your eyes peeled.

— Noah Shachtman

Photo: Darpa

equinix

Massive Data Storage

The idea of the government watching your every move is frightening. But not as frightening as the government recording your every move in digital database that never gets full.

This nightmare data storage scenario is closer than you think. A study from the Brookings Institute says that it will soon be within the reach of the government — and other organizations — to keep a digital record everything that everyone in the country says or does, and the NSA is clearly on the cutting edge of large-scale data storage.

The agency is building a massive $2 billion data center in Utah — due to go live in September of next year — and taking a cue from Google, agency engineers have built a massive database platform specifically designed to juggle massive amounts of information.

According to a senior intelligence official cited in Wired’s recent feature story on the Utah data center, it will play an important role in new efforts within the agency to break the encryption used by governments, businesses, and individuals to mask their communications.

“This is more than just a data center,” said the official, who once worked on the Utah project. Another official cited in the story said that several years ago, the agency made an enormous breakthrough in its ability to crack modern encryption methods.

But equally important is the agency’s ability to rapidly process all the information collected in this and other data centers. In recent years, Google has developed new ways of overseeing petabytes of data — aka millions of gigabytes — using tens of thousands of ordinary computer servers. A platform called BigTable, for instance, underpins the index that lets you instantly search the entire web, which now more than 644 million active sites. WIth Accumulo, the NSA has mimicked BigTable’s ability to instantly make sense of such enormous amounts of data. The good news is that the NSA’s platform is also designed to provide separate security controls from each individual piece of data, but those controls aren’t in your hands. They’re in the hands of the NSA.

— Cade Metz

Photo: Peter McCollough/Wired.com

small-munition

Tiny Bombs and Missiles

Unless you’re super strong or don’t mind back pain, you can’t carry a Hellfire missile. The weapon of choice for drone attacks weighs over 100 pounds, and that’s why it takes a 27-foot-long Predator to pack one. But that’s all about to change. Raytheon’s experimental Small Tactical Munition weighs nearly a tenth of a Hellfire. In May, rival Textron debuted a weapon that loiters in mid-air, BattleHawk, that weighs a mere 5 pounds.

Normally, a smaller bomb or missile just means a smaller smoking crater. But as the weapons get smaller, the number of robots that can carry them increases. The U.S. military has under 200 armed Predators and Reapers. It has thousands of smaller, unarmed spy drones like Pumas and Ravens. Those smaller drones get used by smaller units down on the military’s food chain, like battalions and companies; if they get armed, then drone strikes can become as routine as artillery barrages. That’s heavy.

— Spencer Ackerman

Photo: Raytheon

lockheed-martin

‘Tagging and Tracking’ Tech

Right before the Taliban executed him for allegedly spying for the Americans in April 2009, 19-year-old Pakistani Habibur Rehman said in a videotaped “confession” that he had been paid to plant tracking devices wrapped in cigarette paper inside Taliban and Al-Qaida safehouses. The devices emitted barely detectable radio signals that allegedly guided U.S. drone strikes.

The CIA has never copped to using such trackers, but U.S. Special Operations Command openly touts its relationship with manufacturers of “tagging, tracking and locating devices.” One of these firms, Herndon, Virginia-based Blackbird Technologies, has supplied tens of thousands of these trackers as part of a $450 million contract. The company’s 2-inch-wide devices hop between satellite, radio frequencies, CDMA and GSM cellular networks to report the locations of whatever they’re attached to.

If SOCOM has its way, these trackers will only be the start. The command has spent millions developing networks of tiny “unattended ground sensors” that can be scattered across a battlefield and spot targets for decades, if its makers are to be believed. SOCOM is also on the hunt for tiny, plantable audio and video recorders and optical and chemical “taggants” that can mark a person without him knowing it. The idea is for spies like Rehman (if that’s what he was) to more accurately track militants … and get away with it.

— David Axe and Noah Shachtman

Photo: Lockheed Martin

waverider-usaf

Global Strike

Take the military’s current inventory of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can scream toward their targets at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour. Not too shabby. But also positively slow compared to a new generation of experimental hypersonic weapons that may soon travel many times that speed — and which the Pentagon and the Obama administration dreams about one day lobbing at their enemies anywhere on the globe in less than an hour. And don’t count on the current president, or perhaps even the next one, on abandoning the project any time soon.

It’s called “Prompt Global Strike,” and the Defense Department has worked for a decade on how to field such radical weapons with a mix of trial and error. Among them include the shorter-range X-51A Waverider, a scramjet-powered cruise missile hurtled at up to six times the speed of sound. Even more radical is Darpa’s pizza-shaped glider named the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, and the Army’s pointy-shaped Advanced Hypersonic Weapon — designed to travel at Mach 20 and Mach 8, respectively. If any of these weapons or a variant is ever fielded, they could be used to assassinate a terrorist while on the move or blast a nuclear silo in the opening minutes of a war. Or inadvertently start World War III.

While the Waverider is launched from a plane and resembles a cruise missile (albeit one traveling intensely fast), the HTV-2 is launched using an intercontinental ballistic missile before separating and crashing back down to Earth. But as far as Russian and Chinese radars are concerned, the HTV-2 could very well be an ICBM potentially armed with a nuke and headed for Beijing or Moscow. The Pentagon has apparently considered this doomsday scenario, and has walked back the non-nuke ICBM plan — sort of — while touting a potential future strike weapon launched at the intermediate range from a submarine. But there’s also still plenty of testing to do, and a spotty record of failures for the Waverider and the HTV-2. Meanwhile, the Russians are freaked out enough to have started work on a hypersonic weapon of their own.

— Robert Beckhusen

Photo: Air Force

blue-devil

Sensor Fusion

The military can listen in on your phone calls, and can watch you from above. But it doesn’t have one thing — one intelligence-collection platform, as the jargon goes — that can do both at once. Instead, the various “ints” are collected and processed separately — and only brought together at the final moment by a team of analysts. It’s a gangly, bureaucratic process that often allows prey to slip through the nets of military hunters.

The exception to this is the Blue Devil program. It outfits a single Beechcraft King Air A90 turboprop plane with a wide area sensor, a traditional camera, and eavesdropping gear — all passing information from one to the other. The electronic ear might pick up a phone call, and tell the camera where to point. Or the wide area sensor might see a truck moving, and ask the eavesdropper to take a listen. Flying in Afghanistan since late 2010, the system has been “instrumental in identifying a number of high-value individuals and improvised explosive device emplacements,” according to the Air Force, which just handed out another $85 million contract to operate and upgrade the fleet of four Blue Devil planes.

There’s a second, more ambitious phase of the Blue Devil program, one that involved putting a lot more sensors onto an airship the size of a football field. But that mega-blimp upgrade never made it to the flight-testing phase, owing to a series of bureaucratic, financial and technical hurdles. But the idea of sensor fusion is not going anywhere. And, let’s be honest: If one of these surveillance arrays catches you in their web, neither are you.

Photo: David Axe

Microchip implants, tumors and cash

Company glosses over research pointing to health risks

illinoistimes.com | Oct 3, 2007

By Jim Hightower

Untitled Document Have you been chipped? In another cabal of corporate and governmental officials, there’s been a steady push during the past few years to authorize and market microchip devices to be implanted into humans. An outfit named VeriChip Corp. is the chief pusher, asserting that implanting one of its radiofrequency ID chips into your upper arm can be a medical boon.

These electronic capsules transmit a unique code, says VeriChip, and if something happens to you hospital staff can run a scanner over your chip, get your code, and activate a database containing your medical history. VeriChip envisions a market of at least 45 million Americans sporting their very own RFID codes.

But — oops — one bit of info the corporation never mentioned is that studies have found that these implants have induced malignant tumors in lab mice and rats. “There’s no way in the world that I would have one of those chips implanted in my skin, or in one of my family members,” one eminent cancer expert says.

Where were our regulatory watchdogs? Too busy cheering on the chippers to ask tough questions about side effects. Tommy Thompson, the Bush appointee who oversaw the agency that approved VeriChip for use in humans, has been a vigorous promoter of such electronic medical technologies. Five months after Thompson resigned his cabinet position in 2005, guess where he went?

Right onto the board of directors of both VeriChip and its parent corporation, where he was paid $40,000 a year and given about $1 million worth of stock. Interestingly, while Thompson once told an interviewer that he would “absolutely” be willing to have a VeriChip implanted in his own arm, he never did. Maybe he felt that an injection of VeriChip cash would be better for his health.

DARPA: Dump passwords for always-on biometrics

gcn.com | Mar 21, 2012

By Kathleen Hickey

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to eliminate passwords and use an individual’s typing style and other behavioral traits for user authentication.

Creating, remembering and managing long, complex passwords is “inherently unnatural,” the agency said on its Active Authentication site. And most active sessions don’t have mechanisms to identify that the current user is still the one originally authenticated.

Biometric features such as fingerprints haven long been used in some two-factor authentication systems, but even then it only confirms a user’s ID when logging in. DARPA is proposing behavior-based methods for continual verification.

The agency issued a Broad Agency Announcement solicitation in January for its Active Authentication program. Responses were due March 6.

The program is seeking new ways to identify users, based on intrinsic or behavioral traits. “Just as when you touch something [with] your finger you leave behind a fingerprint, when you interact with technology you do so in a pattern based on how your mind processes information, leaving behind a ‘cognitive fingerprint,” DARPA’s statement said.

The first phase of Active Authentication will focus on researching biometrics that do not require additional hardware sensors, such as mouse and keystroke dynamics. An individual potentially could be identified by how fast he or she types or reads; what words he uses when creating a document or e-mail message; or how he moves the mouse across a page, DARPA said.

Later phases of the program will combine the biometrics with a new authentication program for standard Defense Department desktop or laptop PCs.

The program intends to combine its identification techniques into a continuous authentication process, so that the identity of a user at a machine is constantly being confirmed. The platform will be developed with open Application Programming Interfaces to allow for the easy addition of future biometric software and hardware, DARPA said.

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U.S. airports under pressure to scrap multi-million-dollar iris scanners since they are SLOWER than manual checks


Scanner inspection: British Home Secretary Charles Clarke tries out one of the new scanners in 2005 as they were hailed by Ministers as a key weapon in the fight against terrorism and fraud

Airports in UK have concluded machines are worse than traditional methods

Daily Mail | Feb 28, 2012

Eye scanners which are meant to slash queues at airport passport control are coming under scrutiny after airports around the world started to scrap the costly machines.

In the UK, the scheme was introduced at a cost of $14billion but is now quietly being rolled back after officials concluded that the machines were slower than checking passports manually.

Now the U.S. airports which have used the technology will have to reconsider their reliance on expensive electronics over human expertise.

The last British government claimed that the iris scanners were capable of processing travellers in as little as 12 seconds.

But after 385,000 passengers submitted their details, the scanners have been ditched at Birmingham and Manchester airports, and they are expected to vanish from Heathrow and Gatwick after the Olympics.

Some irate travellers even ended up getting trapped inside the scanning booths when they malfunctioned.

When the then immigration minister, Des Browne, unveiled the Iris Recognition Immigration System, known as Iris, in 2004, he claimed it would provide a ‘watertight’ check of identities as well as cutting queues. It was targeted at foreign passport holders resident in the UK or who regularly travel here and wanted to avoid lengthy queues. They had to undergo a free 15-minute registration to record the unique pattern of their iris every two years.

Plans to use the technology for UK passports and even an ill-fated ID cards scheme were dropped after it emerged that up to one in ten travellers was wrongly rejected by the scanners.

They then had to wait for manual checks to be performed.

Subsequently, facial recognition technology has been developed with the new generation of biometric passports which can be used at automated ‘e-gates’.

These chip-enabled passports are not held by travellers from outside the European Economic Area, however, and they have remained dependent on iris recognition.

Lucy Moreton, deputy general secretary of the Immigration Service Union, said the Iris scheme had been beset with problems from the beginning. She added: ‘Iris scanners are prone to throwing up false alerts when genuine travellers try to use them. We welcome the decision to phase them out.’

James Baker, of privacy group No2ID, said: ‘This is recognition that iris scanning is an expensive failure. The money would be better spent employing more trained staff to use their initiative and check passports manually.’

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We are phasing out Iris and will be replacing it with other types of gates that non-EU passengers will be able to use.’

India creating world’s largest biometric database iris-scanning 1.2 billion people


A migrant farm worker peers into an iris scanner in New Delhi in the first effort to officially record each Indian’s identity as an individual. Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

NY Times | Sep 1, 2011

By LYDIA POLGREEN

KALDARI, India — Ankaji Bhai Gangar, a 49-year-old subsistence farmer, stood in line in this remote village until, for the first time in his life, he squinted into the soft glow of a computer screen.

His name, year of birth and address were recorded. A worker guided Mr. Gangar’s rough fingers to the glowing green surface of a scanner to record his fingerprints. He peered into an iris scanner shaped like binoculars that captured the unique patterns of his eyes.

With that, Mr. Gangar would be assigned a 12-digit number, the first official proof that he exists. He can use the number, along with a thumbprint, to identify himself anywhere in the country. It will allow him to gain access to welfare benefits, open a bank account or get a cellphone far from his home village, something that is still impossible for many people in India.

“Maybe we will get some help,” Mr. Gangar said.

Across this sprawling, chaotic nation, workers are creating what will be the world’s largest biometric database, a mind-bogglingly complex collection of 1.2 billion identities. But even more radical than its size is the scale of its ambition: to reduce the inequality corroding India’s economic rise by digitally linking every one of India’s people to the country’s growth juggernaut.

For decades, India’s sprawling and inefficient bureaucracy has spent billions of dollars to try to drag the poor out of poverty. But much of the money is wasted or simply ends up trapping the poor in villages like Kaldari, in a remote corner of the western state of Maharashtra, dependent on local handouts that they can lose if they leave home.

So now it is trying something different. Using the same powerful technology that transformed the country’s private economy, the Indian government has created a tiny start-up of skilled administrators and programmers to help transform — or circumvent — the crippling bureaucracy that is a legacy of its socialist past.

“What we are creating is as important as a road,” said Nandan M. Nilekani, the billionaire software mogul whom the government has tapped to create India’s identity database. “It is a road that in some sense connects every individual to the state.”

For its proponents, the 12-digit ID is an ingenious solution to a particularly bedeviling problem. Most of India’s poorest citizens are trapped in a system of village-based identity proof that has had the perverse effect of making migration, which is essential to any growing economy, much harder.

The ID project also has the potential to reduce the kind of corruption that has led millions of Indians to take to the streets in mass demonstrations in recent weeks, spurred on by the hunger strike of an anticorruption activist named Anna Hazare. By allowing electronic transmission and verification of many government services, the identity system would make it much harder for corrupt bureaucrats to steal citizens’ benefits. India’s prime minister has frequently cited the new system in response to Mr. Hazare’s demands.

The new number-based system, known as Aadhaar, or foundation, would be used to verify the identity of any Indian anywhere in the country within eight seconds, using inexpensive hand-held devices linked to the mobile phone network.

It would also serve as a shortcut to building real citizenship in a society where identity is almost always mediated through a group — caste, kin and religion. Aadhaar would for the first time identify each Indian as an individual.

The identity project is, in a way, an acknowledgment that India has failed to bring its poor along the path to prosperity. India may be the world’s second-fastest-growing economy, but more than 400 million Indians live in poverty, according to government figures. Nearly half of children younger than 5 are underweight.

India’s expensive public welfare systems are so inefficient that warehouses overflow with rotting grain despite malnutrition rates that rival those of sub-Saharan Africa, and much of it is siphoned off to the private market long before it reaches hungry mouths. The government builds sturdy classrooms but fails to punish well-paid teachers who do not show up for work. These systems fail to connect citizens’ most basic needs with help that is readily available, either through government handouts or the marketplace.

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Is this the checkpoint of the future?


The International Air Transport Association’s “Checkpoint of the Future” would direct travelers into one of three lanes

They would then be directed to one of three lanes: “Known Traveler,” “Normal” and “Enhanced Security.”

CNN | Jun 7, 2011

By A. Pawlowski

(CNN) — Billing it as a way to end the one-size-fits-all approach to airport security, the International Air Transport Association on Tuesday unveiled a mock-up of what it called the “Checkpoint of the Future.”

Instead of a single screening procedure applied to all fliers, the group envisions that passengers would be divided into risk categories based on the information available about them.

They would then be directed to one of three lanes: “Known Traveler,” “Normal” and “Enhanced Security.”

Related

TSA Considering Banning Photography Of Checkpoints

The first — and quickest — lane would only be available to fliers who have registered and undergone background checks with their governments.

Normal screening in the second lane would apply to the majority of travelers. New technology would allow them to walk through without having to take off their clothes or shoes, or unpack their bags.

Passengers for whom less information is available, who are randomly selected or who are deemed to be an “elevated risk,” would receive more screening in the third lane.

Checkpoint of the future

The system would focus resources on passengers who pose the greatest threat while reducing the hassle for the vast majority of travelers who are low risk, said the International Air Transport Association, which represents the world’s major airlines.

“Today’s checkpoint was designed four decades ago to stop hijackers carrying metal weapons. … It is time to rethink everything,” Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and CEO, said at the World Air Transport Summit in Singapore.

“That means moving from a system that looks for bad objects to one that can find bad people,” Bisignani said.

Security Briefing

A biometric identifier in your passport would determine which lane you go through based on a risk assessment performed before you arrive at the airport.

Nineteen governments, including the United States, are working to define standards for a Checkpoint of the Future, IATA said. The group estimated it could be a reality in about five to seven years.

The U.S. Travel Association called for a similar plan earlier this year. In a report, titled “A Better Way,” it suggested creating a trusted traveler program that would allow fliers who volunteer certain information about themselves to go through less rigorous security before their flight.

In March, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the government was working on an “airport checkpoint of tomorrow,” designed to make the passenger experience quicker and less intrusive while still maintaining security.

The International Air Transport Association said it is coordinating closely with the U.S. government on the program.