Airports present a complex challenge to security managers, representing in sharp relief the tension between the need for efficiency and that of maintaining the highest levels of security standards.

As the primary passenger travel hubs of the modern era, airports see the most significant amount of traveler traffic as billions pass through their gates annually on their way to their destinations, both domestic and international. This trend of higher rates of air travel shows no signs of letting up any time soon as global demand for air travel continues to be on the rise, hitting an additional 5% of growth by June of 2019.

Challenging security managers

The challenge for security managers becomes one of how to ensure that all of these travelers are able to move as freely as possible to reach their gate while ensuring that they and the employees who facilitate the operations are all screened for any potential threats to security.

Airport security managers are seeking out technologies that can help their teams to do more within their constraints

In response, airport security managers are seeking out technologies that can help their teams to do more within their constraints. This article highlights four different technologies that are making their way into airport security managers’ planning as they build out their strategies for the year ahead. Airplanes and airports represent ideal targets for violent actors seeking to carry out well publicized, substantial attacks.

Air travel industry

Assaults on the airport grounds or attacks on airborne craft with an explosive or other means have the potential to grab headlines, cause massive casualties, harm the air travel industry, and draw significant reactions from authorities. For these reasons and more, the consequences stemming from a successful attack in this space can be severe and leave little room for error.

Striking a balance between the two seemingly conflicting requirements is a difficult act, but is achievable when they define the threat models and implement the necessary solutions and strategies to reach the goals. Building a strategy starts with thinking about how to implement inspections before the travelers reach the terminal. In an ideal security situation, all plots to carry out attacks against an airport would have been picked up by intelligence operations long before the perpetrators even reach the grounds of the airfield.

Air travel security

Intelligence failures happen and one needs to have measures in place to prevent attackers

However, intelligence failures happen and one needs to have measures in place to prevent attackers from reaching the terminals where they can carry out their attacks, potentially causing significant losses of life. The June 2016 attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that killed 41 people and left more than 230 injured was a stark reminder that attackers do not even have to pass through terminal security in order to pose a threat to air travel security.

Controlling access to the terminals with a defined checkpoint at the entrance to the grounds can be a good start for defending your airport. It is advisable to offer a multi-lane checkpoint which compels the incoming traffic to slow for an inspection that allows security officers to perform a quick visual inspection of the vehicle and its passengers, asking them a question or two to ascertain whether they require additional checks depending on whether they show suspicious behavior.

Vehicle inspection technologies

As the vehicles cross through the checkpoint, interacting with personnel who look into the vehicle’s interior, there is an opportunity to also scan the undercarriage of the vehicle for additional threats such as explosives or other weapons which might be hidden below.

Under vehicle inspection technologies (UVIS) that utilize high-resolution cameras to capture images for deep learning analysis allow security teams to scan and detect potential threats in a matter of seconds. Advanced systems in this market use anomaly detection to identify suspicious items based on their deep understanding of the various elements that make up the vehicle (i.e. the exhaust pipe, brake lines, etc.), and can alert security teams to the need for additional checks if it finds something that is out of place.

Compromising security requirements

The UVIS technology gives airports the ability to move vehicles through the checkpoint quickly

These high-end solutions do not require previous scans of the vehicle or a manufacturer’s model, giving it a ‘first pass’ capability that is essential for airports that deal with new traffic on a regular basis. They also offer comparison technology which can play an important role for dealing with insider threats, which will be covered in our next post.

The UVIS technology gives airports the ability to move vehicles through the checkpoint quickly, only flagging those that raise red flags for more intensive scans, thus minimizing the time spent stuck waiting for inspections without compromising on security requirements. Once the travelers reach the terminal and check in, they are ready for the next stage of the security inspections before reaching the gate hall. Often categorized by long lines and fraught nerves, this security check is ripe for a shake-up.

Traditional security line

An upgrade to the traditional security line, Automated Screening Lanes (ASL) systems offer a number of advantages. First, instead of a single line trudging along waiting to advance, travelers need only to find an open station where they can place their items into the waiting bins which are reported to be bigger than the previous models.

Hopefully, this means that the entire line will not be held up due to one slower to unload traveler. The bins themselves are equipped with RFID tags to identify as they pass through the scanners. If a bin is identified as needing an additional inspection, it can be diverted from the rest of the flow so as not to slow down the rest of the travelers as they make their way through the x-ray machine.

Scanning travel documents

Using these systems can be faster than having human agents checking IDs against the traveler

While the use of these systems is still at its early stages in just a relative handful of major American airports, they are already showing promise. Serving a dual purpose for both identification and tracking, facial recognition has the potential to add an important layer for verification at the security checkpoint.

When the traveler scans their travel documents (passport or another document), their picture can be taken to verify that they really are who they claim to be. Using these systems can be faster than having human agents checking IDs against the traveler and their database, both in terms of speed of operation and the ability to have multiple stations running non-stop without needing additional personnel on shift.

Facial recognition checkpoints

Along with this use, facial recognition can be used to track both travelers and others such as airport employees as they move throughout the facility. This capability can be useful for access control needs as well as a fast response for locating a person of interest

While just a few years ago one might have heard more noise against the idea of using facial recognition at these checkpoints, they have become a fait accompli at this point as biometrics and surveillance have become a standard at the airports. Once the travelers have been identified and their belongings are on their way through the x-ray, it is time for them to have their persons scanned for any dangerous items. This stage is a constant point of frustration as travelers work to remove belts and any other items that have no right to set off a beep but inevitably do.

Identifying suspicious items

The body scanners that have become a constant of the past decade or so raise issues of their own

The body scanners that have become a constant of the past decade or so raise issues of their own, ranging from privacy and health to discomfort of raising hands above head like a prisoner of war or worse. While it is still possible to request a good old fashioned pat down for those who prefer a more personal touch, there are new options out there that could offer a third way.

Standoff screening allows multiple people to walk through at a time, identifying any suspicious items that they may have on their person, and alerting for secondary searches. High-end estimates place the capacity of these systems to move nearly 2,000 people through their scans in an hour, depending in part on other conditions in the mix, while the low end puts the number somewhere closer to 500.

Faster security process

One should recognize that they are still early stage and are probably not where they need to be yet to operate on their own without additional measures. However, despite the calculated rollout, the development of these devices is a positive that can help lead to a faster security process by reducing friction at these high-stress points.

The post-9/11 era has brought about a sea change in how travelers are inspected

New challenges of how to detect and defend against threats place security managers in a perpetual search for new solutions. The post-9/11 era has brought about a sea change in how travelers are inspected before being allowed to reach the gates, and eventually their flights. Whereas the hijackings of the 1970s introduced the need for metal detectors, the shoe and underwear bombers have brought about the era of the body scanners in the first two decades of the millennium.

Security device innovations

Developments in the field will drive the next generation of security device innovations, which themselves are still playing catch-up to the last attack. Moving forward, airport security managers are on the lookout for systems that are more automated to help their teams make securely scanning the traveling public at an increasingly larger scale a more achievable task.

It is up to the innovators in the sector to provide them with capabilities that go beyond that of the human eye to find dangerous threats wherever they may be, keeping the stream of air travel flowing with minimal interruptions.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

In case you missed it

Water Plant Attack Emphasizes Cyber’s Impact On Physical Security
Water Plant Attack Emphasizes Cyber’s Impact On Physical Security

At an Oldsmar, Fla., water treatment facility on Feb. 5, an operator watched a computer screen as someone remotely accessed the system monitoring the water supply and increased the amount of sodium hydroxide from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million. The chemical, also known as lye, is used in small concentrations to control acidity in the water. In larger concentrations, the compound is poisonous – the same corrosive chemical used to eat away at clogged drains. The impact of cybersecurity attacks The incident is the latest example of how cybersecurity attacks can translate into real-world, physical security consequences – even deadly ones.Cybersecurity attacks on small municipal water systems have been a concern among security professionals for years. The computer system was set up to allow remote access only to authorized users. The source of the unauthorized access is unknown. However, the attacker was only in the system for 3 to 5 minutes, and an operator corrected the concentration back to 100 parts per million soon after. It would have taken a day or more for contaminated water to enter the system. In the end, the city’s water supply was not affected. There were other safeguards in place that would have prevented contaminated water from entering the city’s water supply, which serves around 15,000 residents. The remote access used for the attack was disabled pending an investigation by the FBI, Secret Service and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. On Feb. 2, a compilation of breached usernames and passwords, known as COMB for “Compilation of Many Breaches,” was leaked online. COMB contains 3.2 billion unique email/password pairs. It was later discovered that the breach included the credentials for the Oldsmar water plant. Water plant attacks feared for years Cybersecurity attacks on small municipal water systems have been a concern among security professionals for years. Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that the attempt to poison the water supply should be treated as a “matter of national security.” “The incident at the Oldsmar water treatment plant is a reminder that our nation’s critical infrastructure is continually at risk; not only from nation-state attackers, but also from malicious actors with unknown motives and goals,” comments Mieng Lim, VP of Product Management at Digital Defense Inc., a provider of vulnerability management and threat assessment solutions.The attack on Oldsmar’s water treatment system shows how critical national infrastructure is increasingly becoming a target for hackers as organizations bring systems online “Our dependency on critical infrastructure – power grids, utilities, water supplies, communications, financial services, emergency services, etc. – on a daily basis emphasizes the need to ensure the systems are defended against any adversary,” Mieng Lim adds. “Proactive security measures are crucial to safeguard critical infrastructure systems when perimeter defenses have been compromised or circumvented. We have to get back to the basics – re-evaluate and rebuild security protections from the ground up.” "This event reinforces the increasing need to authenticate not only users, but the devices and machine identities that are authorized to connect to an organization's network,” adds Chris Hickman, Chief Security Officer at digital identity security vendor Keyfactor. “If your only line of protection is user authentication, it will be compromised. It's not necessarily about who connects to the system, but what that user can access once they're inside. "If the network could have authenticated the validity of the device connecting to the network, the connection would have failed because hackers rarely have possession of authorized devices. This and other cases of hijacked user credentials can be limited or mitigated if devices are issued strong, crypto-derived, unique credentials like a digital certificate. In this case, it looks like the network had trust in the user credential but not in the validity of the device itself. Unfortunately, this kind of scenario is what can happen when zero trust is your end state, not your beginning point." “The attack on Oldsmar’s water treatment system shows how critical national infrastructure is increasingly becoming a target for hackers as organizations bring systems online for the first time as part of digital transformation projects,” says Gareth Williams, Vice President - Secure Communications & Information Systems, Thales UK. “While the move towards greater automation and connected switches and control systems brings unprecedented opportunities, it is not without risk, as anything that is brought online immediately becomes a target to be hacked.” Operational technology to mitigate attacks Williams advises organizations to approach Operational Technology as its own entity and put in place procedures that mitigate against the impact of an attack that could ultimately cost lives. This means understanding what is connected, who has access to it and what else might be at risk should that system be compromised, he says. “Once that is established, they can secure access through protocols like access management and fail-safe systems.”  “The cyberattack against the water supply in Oldsmar should come as a wakeup call,” says Saryu Nayyar, CEO, Gurucul.  “Cybersecurity professionals have been talking about infrastructure vulnerabilities for years, detailing the potential for attacks like this, and this is a near perfect example of what we have been warning about,” she says.  Although this attack was not successful, there is little doubt a skilled attacker could execute a similar infrastructure attack with more destructive results, says Nayyar. Organizations tasked with operating and protecting critical public infrastructure must assume the worst and take more serious measures to protect their environments, she advises. Fortunately, there were backup systems in place in Oldsmar. What could have been a tragedy instead became a cautionary tale. Both physical security and cybersecurity professionals should pay attention.

Expert Roundup: Healthy Buildings, Blockchain, AI, Skilled Workers, And More
Expert Roundup: Healthy Buildings, Blockchain, AI, Skilled Workers, And More

Our Expert Panel Roundtable is an opinionated group. However, for a variety of reasons, we are sometimes guilty of not publishing their musings in a timely manner. At the end of 2020, we came across several interesting comments among those that were previously unpublished. Following is a catch-all collection of those responses, addressing some of the most current and important issues in the security marketplace in 2021.

Smart Offices: How Is Mobile ID Changing The Way We Access The Office?
Smart Offices: How Is Mobile ID Changing The Way We Access The Office?

If you’re a security or facilities manager, you may already be aware of the quiet revolution that’s taking place across businesses and organizations up and down the country. By the end of 2020, 20% of all ID and access control systems featured mobile capability, and this is set to increase by a further 34% over the next three years. There’s no doubt that using a smartphone or mobile device in place of traditional credential and access control is a growing trend that’s only been sped up by the pandemic. It’s true that many businesses are still very much focused on remote working, although many are now starting to implement new-and-improved strategies that are better suited to protect the workforce moving forward. Mobile ID systems As the next normal becomes clearer, businesses will be reviewing procedures such as access control, occupancy monitoring, reducing touch points, and tracking visitors. Mobile ID systems are ideally suited to this task. But what are the key reasons for considering such a setup in 2021? But why is this new technology so well-suited to future-proof your physical access system, and why is it becoming so popular? Eradicating outdated legacy credentials Have you seen just how vulnerable outdated Proximity card technology can be? Low-frequency 125kHz cards can be cloned in a matter of seconds with the use of cheap, readily available tools. Despite their weaknesses, they are still used by a huge majority of businesses – big and small. All smartphones include two industry-standard features that make them perfect for operating a secure, contactless credential Replacing such a system with a mobile-enabled system is one of the best ways to increase security ten-fold. Thanks to a cloud-based infrastructure, mobile ID offers best-in-class security and cryptography. All smartphones include two industry-standard features that make them perfect for operating a secure, contactless credential. Bluetooth Smart and NFC (Near Field Communication) make them the best product to operate such a credential via a secure app. If you’re looking for best-in-class security in 2021, mobile access is most definitely the way forward. Removing touch points across the business Reducing touch points and the adoption of touchless facilities has become a key priority for businesses in the wake of COVID-19. Even as businesses start to return to the office and operate a home/office split, it will be imperative that unnecessary contact is kept to an absolute minimum between staff. The traditional issuance of identification and access control credentials can pose problems in this regard. Facility and security managers who are responsible for onboarding and processing ID have done the process face to face. Mobile access makes it possible to carry this process out without people coming into direct content. First, the security manager has access to a secure portal, allowing them to create, manage and edit credentials anywhere. They can upload and remotely transfer mobile ID and access control credentials directly to users’ smartphones over the air. Via the secure app, users can view and see their credentials and immediately begin using it for ID and access control by simply placing their smartphone over card readers. Enabling a more flexible way of working The way in which we work has changed for good. Even as people more people return to the office in 2021, a majority of businesses will be operating a home/office split indefinitely. This once again reinforces the need for a smarter, more adaptable onboarding system. Implementing mobile ID is the perfect way of doing this: over-the-air delivery of credentials and security data is now a given, helping businesses create the perfect balance between the home and the office. No longer do people have to come into the office for the onboarding process. Increasing convenience and user experience More often businesses are realising the value mobile ID can have for enhancing the work experience as well as security Ok, so mobile ID is the perfect way of increasing security and adapting workplaces to a post-COVID way of working. And we’ve not even touched on the most obvious advantage yet: Convenience. How many times have you forgotten your ID card? We’re sure it’s more times than you forget your smartphone. These powerful processors have become intertwined with the way we carry out tasks on a daily basis. They’re so vital that people will soon notice if they’ve forgotten it. From an employee’s perspective, mobile ID and access control is simple, convenient, and extremely user-friendly. More and more businesses are realizing the value mobile ID can have for enhancing the work experience as well as security. From the employer’s perspective, mobile ID means it’s easier for administrators to manage access and credentials. Future-proofing access control now will ensure that in the longer term, mobile ID is well worth the investment. The annual expenditure of printing ID cards and purchasing credentials can be vast, while reissuance costs can also quickly add up for larger organizations. These issues are a thing of the past for businesses using mobile ID. Mobile ID perfect tool for 2021 and beyond Until mobile ID, new and improved credentials’ main focus was on increasing security. Mobile ID not only delivers that, but it also provides a more convenient way of accessing the office in a way that’s perfectly suited to returning to the office in 2021. If there was ever a time to upgrade, now is the time. Summing up, mobile access is changing the way we access the office by: Eliminating weak links in security systems such as outdated legacy card technologies Eradicating the need for touch points across multiple areas of the workplace Enabling a smarter, more flexible approach to onboarding Increasing convenience – for both employers and employees.