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Smart phones are enhancing security in many ways

A homeowner carrying tablet
anywhere in the world could see
face of visitor on his doorstep
(standing in rear of photo)

Up and down the aisles at the recent ISC West security show in Las Vegas, one conclusion seems indisputable: security applications which used to live on corporate servers or desktop computers are making a headlong rush to iPhones, iPads, Android-based devices and other smart phones.

It seems every company -- and huge numbers of customers – are eager to observe, control and interact with their security applications via their hand-held devices, often using newly-fashionable Cloud-based services.

At this moment, it appears that consumer-driven products are leading the way toward the adoption of these mobility applications, but many observers told Government Security News that they anticipate that government customers won’t be far behind.

D-Link, of Fountain Valley, CA, is offering consumers the ability to monitor video surveillance cameras mounted in their homes, by using their smart phones and the Cloud. “This is now a consumer device and everyone has them,” explained Vance Kozik, the company’s director of product marketing. “However, I think it will happen across the board, from D.I.Y. consumers all the way to the government. The Cloud and remote access through a smart phone go hand-in-hand.”

Samsung envisions a similar progression. The Korea-based technology giant currently offers an innovative home surveillance system that allows a homeowner -- whether he or she is at home or halfway around the world -- to see a visitor standing at their front door who has just rung their doorbell. A bright image of the visitor appears on the homeowner’s handheld tablet. “For visitors, I don’t have to show my status,” explained Yunjeong Kim, the director of Samsung’s home network and security export group. “It starts with a home solution,” he added. “But it can be used for offices or government. Why not?”

Clearly, a trend is developing, but not every observer expects it to turn into a tidal wave overnight. One of the key enabling technologies for this move toward security applications on smart phones is known as Near Field Communication, or NFC. That’s a technology that can be embedded in a smart phone in order to transmit data -- be it personal authentication information to trigger an access control system, financial data to interact with an online banking system, or some other application -- at relatively short distances. 

Maria Lenz, who works for Smartrac Technology, a German manufacturer that builds NFC “inlays” throughout the world, sees the emergence of NFC as a possible harbinger of things to come. “There’s not a big push yet, because people are still unsure about how NFC will work,” Lenz told GSN. “It may take a few years.”

Indeed, it may take a few years for NFC, and the other enabling technologies behind this push towards greater mobility, to take over the security world. But the transformational shift is clearly happening, as this grab-bag of illustrative examples from ISC West amply demonstrates:

Access control and intrusion detection – At a press breakfast at ISC West on March 28, Honeywell announced its new Total Connect 2.1, which empowers a customer to arm and disarm their access control and intrusion detection system using their smart phone. “We are the first manufacturer that will be releasing a tablet that can control the panel,” boasted Scott Harkins, president of Honeywell Security Products, who observed that smart phones and tablets “have taken the world by storm.”

Because Total Connect 2.1 functions wirelessly, it takes less time and money for an integrator to install it, explained Harkins. “It eliminates the last piece of wire,” he told the assembled journalists. “The only wire we need is to deliver power.”

Honeywell is also offering a free app that can enable a smart phone user to control some of the company’s intrusion detection systems. “This is a ‘freemium’ service over the Internet for our AlarmNet customers,” said Harkins.

Bluetooth-enabled access control – Paul Bodell, who spent the past nine years as a marketing executive with IQinVision, a surveillance camera supplier, has jumped into the emerging mobility field by becoming president of ECKey, an entrepreneurial firm that originated in New Zealand, relocated to the U.S. a few years ago, and now is promoting the use of a smart phone – which utilizes Bluetooth technology rather than NFC -- to trigger an access control system. He believes Bluetooth offers at least two distinct advantages over NFC.

First, billions of Bluetooth-enabled devices have already been purchased around the world, while NFC is still in its infancy. “I didn’t want my revenue to wait for the NFC technology,” explained Bodell, during an interview with GSN on March 30.

Second, because Bluetooth can send signals over a greater distance than NFC -- perhaps 30 feet versus three feet -- ECKey believes its technology will be ideal to open car doors in public parking lots, to open front door locks on retail stores in strip malls, to open front doors of homes in gated communities, etc.

Bodell expects that the installation of identity authentication software in a smart phone might threaten the ID card manufacturers who have come to dominate the access control sector. “The card manufacturers don’t want this to happen,” Bodell observed, “because it is disruptive.”

Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) systems – PSIM systems are moving to center-stage in the security world for a wide variety of reasons, but certainly one of those reasons involves their ability to transmit real-time information to first responders carrying smart phones in the field and, perhaps more importantly, to receive real-time updates from first responders in the field.

Michael Jackson, who served as deputy secretary of DHS from 2005 to 2007, before taking the positions of Chairman and CEO of VidSys, a leading PSIM supplier, believes that there are great benefits to be achieved when a police or emergency command center can provide individual first responders with tailored, real-time video, floor plans or specific steps that he or she should take when they arrive at an incident scene.

Similarly, a “shot spotter” system, which uses cameras, audio devices and computer software to determine the precise location from which a gun or rifle shot was fired, can instantly communicate its conclusions to a patrolman in the field, who is carrying a smart phone or tablet. “You can pump that photo of the suspect to a law enforcement guy who is chasing the shooter,” Jackson explained.

Jackson is a believer in the push to greater and greater mobility, but his enthusiasm has not blinded him to a potential downside to this trend.

“There is a question whether you are pushing too much data to people,” Jackson told GSN. “You can suffer by sending trivial information to more and more people.”

Turnstiles – Even humble turnstiles, which control the flow of workers into modern office buildings and other venues, are ripe for the march toward security-on-smart-phones. For example, Smarter Security, of Austin, TX, has introduced a line of turnstiles it has dubbed Fastlane Connect, which will incorporate the turnstile into a company’s computer network, and enable the turnstile to be controlled, via a smart phone, from anywhere in the world.

“We’ve been asked about this trend for a while,” acknowledged Jeff Brown, the company’s CEO. “Customers want it to show up as another node on their network.”

To accommodate such requests, Smarter Security has developed a line of turnstiles “that can be controlled from the 30th floor or from across the world,” Brown said. Such devices can lower the customer’s “total cost of ownership” (because their firmware can be upgraded remotely) and because the turnstile can be diagnosed by repairmen from a distance. “A technician can change the alignment of the barriers via the Internet,” said Brown, “and does not have to make a trip.” 

Location-based alerts – Technology innovations are being rolled-out that can help locate individuals by identifying the precise WiFi access points that their cell phones are utilizing at any given moment. For instance, Amika Mobile, a Canadian company, has designed a system that could distinguish between those office building workers who were using WiFi access points above a fire raging on the 20th floor from those employees who were using access points below the 20th floor. This would enable a central command center to transmit different sets of instructions to the different groups of employees, depending on where they happened to be located at a given moment.

“I want to alert you based on where you are,” explained Ken Grigg, the company’s chief technology officer.

This type of warning system was used by first responders last month, after they showed up at an incident where apparently there was a gas leak in a government facility in Canada, and began evacuating themselves from the area, said Grigg.

Securing a smart phone – In many cases, smart phones can help enhance security, but in other instances, it is the smart phone itself which represents the security risk. That’s why DNF Corp., of Hayward, CA, has developed what it calls a Virtual Mobile Interface. Essentially, this temporarily disables much of the operating system of a smart phone, so it poses very little security risk in a tightly-secured, sensitive location. “We disable your phone and make it a managed and secure device,” said Mo Tahmasebi, the company’s president and CEO. He cited NASA as one government agency that has used this Virtual Mobile Interface to reduce the risk posed by a visiting smart phone, but provided few details.

Just as smart phones have become ubiquitous among the general public, they are rapidly moving to center-stage in the security world. The initial push may have come from billions of consumers around the globe, but it won’t be long before government agencies at all levels recognize the many ways in which smart phones can beef up security.


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