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Fusion Center Unites Diverse Research Groups

August 2001
By Henry S. Kenyon

Advanced identification technologies studied, cataloged and deployed to services.

The U.S. Defense Department has established a facility to evaluate and integrate biometric identification systems for military and federal agencies. Charged with multiple responsibilities, this center also serves as a place where government, academia and industry can share their expertise and knowledge.

The rapid convergence of computer networking technologies and small, portable wireless devices presents system designers with major security issues. Battlefield weapons, communications and datalinks all require controlled access to ensure that tactical and strategic advantages are maintained. Biometrics technologies such as iris and fingerprint scanners provide commanders with secure personnel identification and verification capabilities. However, not all biometrics systems are suited for military or government use.

Evaluating and disseminating these technologies throughout the Defense Department is the mission of the Biometrics Fusion Center (BFC) in Bridgeport, West Virginia. According to Phillip Loranger, director of the Defense Department’s Biometrics Management Office (BMO), Falls Church, Virginia, the fusion center is the hub of the department’s biometrics initiative. The facility’s primary responsibility is to test commercial products to ensure that they are robust enough for military use.

The center is part of the BMO (SIGNAL, March 2001, page 56), which works in cooperation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to evaluate and list commercial products that meet Defense Department requirements for use by agencies and contractors. The office develops guidelines for biometrics technologies such as information assurance, access control and physical security. The BMO also is responsible for incorporating biometrics requirements into Defense Department information assurance guidelines to create a more efficient resource allocation picture, Loranger says.

The U.S. Army oversees the BMO, acting as the organization’s executive agent in the Defense Department and providing cooperation and guidance to the other services. Because the BMO is a cross-agency effort, qualified officers from the other services work together in the organization. This arrangement has created a core of personnel representing a number of regional commanders in chief (CINCs) and Defense Department agencies, Loranger says. Though the officers are not stationed on site, they coordinate with the office’s staff to ensure that the services’ needs are met, he explains.

The BMO also is tasked with designing an enterprise process to leverage the acquisition of all biometrics-related products across the Defense Department. Loranger notes that the organization is responsible for expediting the fielding of biometrics devices and systems to the military. More than 20 commercial products currently are being evaluated, he says.

The enterprise management support system will insert biometrics into the Defense Department’s “infostructure,” as opposed to its infrastructure. As Defense Department business practice moves toward a corporate knowledge management model, the BFC is seeking ways to blend biometrics into the organization’s operational procedures, Loranger explains. However, while a more commercial model is being developed, the military will not change or replace its core needs and requirements, he maintains. One long-term goal is to replace passwords, personal identification numbers and access systems with biometrics. The BMO also is exploring the use of biometrics as an accounting and auditing tool for personnel and authorized information technology systems, he says.

The center is divided into three sections devoted to test and evaluation, technology introduction, and creation of a database of biometrics technologies. It plans to have 25 engineers on staff by the end of the year to support all three areas, Loranger says.

Paul Howe, BFC deputy director, notes that the fusion center functions as a meeting place where program participants can share information. The facility’s engineers are responsible for a variety of tasks such as conducting World Wide Web searches and product assessments, and assisting clients with on-site product integration. The center also serves an educational function by disseminating information about biometrics technologies and developing standards and policies for use by Army program managers. These standards cover everything from requirements analysis to guidelines designed to aid project managers in selecting the right products, he explains.

The BFC is creating a Web-enabled database and an expanding knowledge base that will become a master repository for Defense Department security and product requirements and the environments in which these products are used, Loranger says. Designed for use by Defense Department and private sector customers, the database also stores company and agency personnel enrollment records. If a fire destroys an organization’s data, it can be accessed from the BMO, he says.

The fusion center draws on private sector expertise. Howe contends that biometrics is a large and growing field. This dynamism allows the BFC to tap organizations such as the Biometrics Consortium, an industry group with more than 700 members. Technological improvements in areas such as microprocessors allow smaller companies to develop scanning systems more easily, increasing the number of devices the fusion center can evaluate, he says.

A strategic goal of the BMO is to leverage the capabilities of laboratories around the world, Loranger says. To achieve this, the BFC has formed partnerships with the National Science Foundation, Arlington, Virginia; West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia; Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia; and San José State University, San José, California. The West Virginia University Center for Identification Technology and Research is one of the results of this effort.

Loranger explains that the BFC and the BMO share the same mission: to ensure the availability of biometrics technologies within the Defense Department; to consolidate and coordinate all Defense Department biometrics information assurance programs to support network-centric warfare; and to aid the services by providing proven, reliable and effective biometrics access systems to maintain garrison and combat missions.

The BFC supports a number of biometrics programs and studies across the services, CINCs and the Defense Department. Loranger notes that the BMO is conducting several “quick-look” programs in the Army to identify technologies that can be quickly integrated into the service. These projects are short-term technology and qualification programs that place biometrics products directly into an organization’s business process to test their suitability. In many cases, the participating agencies want to keep the technology and integrate it into their processes, he says.

According to Howe, “quick looks” test products in real-world situations. “We get to see how biometrics work outside the lab in a small operational environment,” he says. Because these devices are at various levels of maturity, some may be withdrawn if they require too much coddling, he adds.

The evaluation process is necessary because of the differences between commercial and government applications. Loranger notes that one of the BFC’s primary duties is to ensure that the Defense Department accepts only the right products. Systems often have to be modified before they can meet required criteria. Plug-and-play technology is not the rule but the exception, because even simple devices require some integration and research and development, he says.

Several quick-look programs are underway in the Army. The service is exploring ways to incorporate biometrics into the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below computer, the Army Materiel Command’s operations center, and the Army Forces Command’s command and control local area network. The Product Manager Secure Electronic Transactions-Devices department, which is responsible for the Army’s common access card and public key infrastructure, also is working with the BFC and the National Security Agency to develop biometrics protection profiles. Complementary programs are underway as well to develop value-added biometrics and convergence capabilities for use within Army commands.

Development and implementation efforts currently concentrate on fingerprints, iris scanning, facial recognition, finger geometry, hand geometry, voice recognition and signature identification. According to Loranger, fingerprint scanning is the most mature of these technologies while facial recognition is the most convenient for users. Voice-based biometrics have much promise, but they should not be confused with voice recognition software or systems, he cautions. Signature recognition technology must not be confused with digital signatures because the biometric version represents a measurement of pen pressure and the interval between strokes, he says.

In addition, the BMO is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to create nonintrusive, transparent biometrics technologies. These future systems must operate in a full biological/chemical warfare environment and potentially employ systems such as lip and eye movement recognition. The use of biometrics in multiple complementary layers also is being investigated. Loranger notes that one example of this research is a facial recognition system capable of identifying individuals with access clearance out of a group from a distance of 20 to 30 yards.

Research also is underway to find ways for users to signal that they are under duress. Biometric devices must distinguish between data from a cognizant individual and a sophisticated facsimile or an incapacitated person, Loranger explains. For example, a fingerprint access system may have a security feature to distinguish a hostage situation. Instead of using a right-hand finger, a person under duress would use a left-hand finger to activate an alert.

Recognition technology will have battlefield applications beyond access to communications equipment because most military weapons systems have microprocessors in them, Loranger says. “There isn’t a weapons system that I can think of, other than small arms, that does not use a CPU [central processing unit],” he says. Incorporating biometrics into these weapons would be an effective way to prevent their use against friendly forces, he adds.

Over the long term, Loranger hopes that the BFC will become not only the Defense Department’s biometrics knowledge repository, but also a place where weapons systems’ designers will come to integrate these technologies into their programs. The role of both the BMO and the BFC is to stay ahead of combat equipment developers and to recommend technology-based security solutions, he explains.

There are other areas in which biometrics can be applied. Loranger notes that several nations are now incorporating biometrics technologies into their passports. “If the world is going that way, then we have to keep abreast,” he says.