As more military weapon systems get loaded with computers and software,
Pentagon planners worry that, if those systems one day end up in
enemy hands, the valuable data stored in those computers will become
prized intelligence for U.S. foes. The Army’s M-1 Abrams tank,
for example, has three major computer systems. The security of these
systems is a main concern of the Defense Department, said Phillip
Loranger, director of the Pentagon’s Biometrics Management
Office (BMO), in Falls Church, Va.
"We want to make sure that if we ever have a platform that
was taken out of commission simply by removing the crew, that the
platform could not be turned against us," said Loranger. He
said he believes the answer lies with biometrics.
Biometrics is the study of measurable biological characteristics,
such as fingerprints and speech patterns. These physical features
can be used in security for authentication purposes, in the same
manner as passwords, but they are more accurate, say proponents.
The BMO was tasked to ensure that biometrics technology is developed
for the Defense Department.
But Loranger also was told that the technologies should not be
military-unique, but rather stem from the commercial marketplace.
"Industry is better poised. Industry is a lot smarter than
we are. Industry is where we got to go to get baseline for standards,
the baseline for interoperability," he said during a conference
on biometrics sponsored by AFCEA International. The BMO has set
up partnerships with industry and academia for research, development
and integration work.
Cost and training were the main concerns. "Some of the sensors
today for fingerprints are down to $12 a piece," said Loranger.
Another consideration for biometrics integration is to minimize
the use of bandwidth. Some services platforms are still operating
on only 9 bits, he said.
The Pentagon sponsored a "personal identification pilot study,"
said Steven King, who manages BMO’s information systems. Biometrics
in the form of iris imaging and face recognition was implemented
at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), in Adelphi, Md. "We
were focused on personnel/visitor identification at the Defense
Department’s laboratories and technology centers," King
said. ARL set up a visitor and personnel tracking system to monitor
access to its facilities.
King stressed that several factors should be considered before
an organization enforces a biometrics system:
Face recognition is one possible biometric alternative to fingerprints,
said King, it has a lower level of intrusiveness than iris imaging.
However, the error rates are higher than with iris imaging, especially
when the target is moving or uncooperative.
The iris-imaging system set up at ARL will run until July. Then,
the security system will be changed over to face recognition. Employees
volunteered to participate and the system is run by security personnel,
not technicians, to give it a realistic environment.
The process consists of several steps. First, there is pre-enrollment
on the Web. The iris image and face recognition are recorded, all
of which takes about five minutes. The registration station contains
an iris scanner, a video screen to provide the user with instructions
and an automatic badge printer. With 258 people enrolled, the percentage
of successful matches is 93.4, said King.
Another project under way is BIDS or Biometric Identification Systems,
a force-protection technology for the Defense Manpower Data Center
(DMDC). The DMDC holds more than 21 million records. On an average
day, 1.1 million transactions take place, a quarter of which are
updates to the assignments of military personnel and their dependants,
explained Ken Scheflen, of the DMDC. The agency plans to use BIDS
to register people, issue identification cards, store fingerprints
and pictures, register motor vehicles and privately owned weapons,
track guests and their vehicles.
DMDC is in the process of incorporating so-called "smart cards"
to identify each member of the U.S. military forces. A smart card
is a credit-card sized plastic card with an embedded computer chip
that stores all pertinent information about the individual. The
program was scheduled to be kicked off worldwide this summer. "The
smart card does not contain biometrics, but it uses biometrics as
part of the identification process, comparing a fingerprint that
is already in the database, if we have one, to the live person,"
The future of communications lies in a globally interconnected
grid, which will require some use of biometrics to protect information,
said Ben Acre, from GRC International Inc. "Biometrics is needed
everywhere. It is needed not only on the system that has a lot of
different components, but it’s needed in the single entity.
It is needed for weapons systems. ...We need it at different aspects
of the battlefield," said Acre.
Standards for the deployment of biometrics technology are emerging,
said Fernando L. Podio, co-chair of the Biometrics Consortium. These
standards include a common biometric exchange file format, a biometric
application programming interface, common data security architecture
and other programs that would make interoperability easier.
Biometrics also has applications in the law-enforcement arena,
said Don Prosnitz, a science advisor for the Justice Department.
Forensics is one example. Currently, one of the largest Justice
programs is integrating the fingerprint databases of the FBI and
the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Prosnitz hopes that biometrics will help identify criminals when
fingerprints or DNA techniques fail. "We often have latent
prints or DNA that may be hard to identify. And maybe you can have
a latent picture of somebody. ... So we extend the concept of latency
to biometrics," he said.
But Prosnitz raised concerns that expensive technologies that the
Justice Department can afford may not be accessible to state and
Biometrics security systems also could be expanded to control the
flow of people across the borders. About 530 million travelers a
year are checked at the borders. Biometrics could help with that
process by making it faster, said Prosnitz. Even routine police
traffic stops would be enhanced by biometrics. Prosnitz also pointed
out that biometrics could make it difficult for a police impostor
to go undetected.
The prison system could benefit from biometrics, he said. A prisoner-transportation
system by the U.S. Marshals Service, commonly called Con Air, is
one example. "The Marshals Service transports 1,000 prisoners
a day all over this country. ... The buses pull up from different
local prisons. They all have to get on the airplane, and there are
250 on the plane that have to get on the proper bus, so we have
to segregate the prisoners. The medical records travel with them."
The State Department also has plans for biometrics. The 290 U.S.
Foreign Service posts currently are using conventional access credentials,
explained Jack Applebaum, of the State Department. These are problematic,
because the access cards or keys can be misplaced or stolen. Plus,
Applebaum lamented, there are so many passwords and PIN numbers
to remember, that many employees commit a security violation by
carrying around a card with all of the passwords and numbers written
on it. The State Department has tried hand recognition and retinal
scan without much success, but the technology is moving toward iris
scanning and face recognition, he said.
About a third of diplomatic posts overseas do not have 24-hour
security services, said Applebaum, or any presence, for that matter,
from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. If a U.S. diplomat arrived
at an embassy when there is no security personnel on duty, he or
she would not be able to enter the facility. Biometrics technology
would help address that problem.
While many experts and industry representatives seem to be in agreement
that biometrics is the way of the future, there are several obstacles
to overcome. A big one is public acceptance. Both Prosnitz and Applebaum
raised the question of privacy. Many people would strongly object
to having their DNA, fingerprints or other features stored in a
database. Then there is the question of simple sanitation. The idea
of using a hand or finger plate, which is covered with prints from
previous users can be repulsive to some people. "The counter
argument to that, whether a hand plate or a finger, is then you
use the doorknob don’t you?" said Applebaum.
King also commented on the reality that some people just have trouble
adapting to using the technology. "You might think that looking
at a little blinking dot is a very easy thing to do, but for a certain
percentage of people, biometrics poses a challenge. Even if you
have to look at it for three seconds," he said.
One of the main goals, officials agreed, should be to speed up
the process of identifying the users, especially when the system
has to handle hundreds to thousands of people a day.