Physical Security Trickles Into Cyberspace

NICE Systems is responsible for securing the Statue of Liberty and hundreds of other sites around the world. The president of the company’s security group, Yaron Tchwella, talks about future global threats

The Indian House of Parliment (photo: AP)

Not many people know that the common denominator between the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, two of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, is that they are both secured by Israeli defense systems. Hundreds of cameras are scattered all over these sites and attached to a central control panel. The system's “brain” can automatically track suspicious movements and then follow them. The system will display the suspect's path on the computer screen and video footage will allow for a complete view of all that transpires on those sites, and at any given moment.

The company behind the systems is NICE, considered to be one of the largest software and security companies in the world. NICE has approximately 25,000 clients and 3,000 employees globally. Other than tourist sites, NICE’s security systems can be found in international airports and government facilities—like the one at the Indian parliament. The Security Group at NICE is one of the largest in the company, and it also serves the needs of the civilian sector.

According to NICE SG’s president, Yaron Tchwella, the main focus of the group is on intelligence and advanced security systems. A few months ago, NICE revealed a new risk assessment system, the PSIM (Physical Security Information Management). It allows the tracking of a vast number of objects in real time, including cars, planes, ships, and anything that can be detected by radar systems from other sensors.

The system was developed in accordance with the highest US standards, and is tailored to suit the needs of specific sites such as national infrastructures (security for which is of the highest importance) and airports. The biggest challenge that a control system has to face is to identify a problematic situation, before it surfaces, based on early warning signs that the computer will automatically detect.

Tchwella started out as a programmer while serving as a young academic officer in the IDF. He was assigned to head the Security Group in NICE after leaving his former post as the CEO of the Israeli software and communication giant COMVERSE.

Intelligence

One of the main topics on NICE’s agenda is intelligence, a subject Tchwella cannot speak about in great detail for obvious reasons. “We deal with intelligence for governmental bodies, police forces, and internal security units,” says Tchwella. Some of NICE’s capabilities become public knowledge under circumstances that are out of the company’s control, such as police wiring.

If the police are authorized to monitor a person’s phone calls, they will most likely be using a NICE product. The Israeli media recently published that the police regularly tapped text messages (not only phone calls) between suspects in a number of high profile cases. As a result, the general public has become aware of the technology and the possibility of tracking transmissions between cell phones.

Among the most advanced wire tap capabilities is the ability to detect a person of interest using a voice sample and recognize the language through a segment of a recorded conversation. Some computer programs identify a person's language by breaking down the recorded voice into short syllables. Other capabilities include monitoring events that already transpired on the Internet. For example, if a demonstration occurs, a monitor can go back online and see who initiated the protest on a social network and how it came to fruition. Advanced software can even aid in identifying terror cells in such a manner.

According to Tchwella, the different management systems are a perfect fit for running huge cities, and not only in the security context. The “Safe City” system is based on sensors scattered all over a city, used by command and control systems that help to deal with natural disasters with the same efficiency as dealing with a terrorist attack.

“If we look at what happened in Japan (the tsunami), for example, it was not a terrorist attack, but it still put the population's security at great risk. We look at natural disasters and an accidental dispersal of toxic substances as an interregnal part of events that the “Safe City” system needs to know how to handle,” says Tchwella.

The security system in the Indian parliament is not the only deal that NICE secured on the sub-continent. The Israeli company also installed advanced security systems in other facilities in India, and the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2009 only served to enhance the demand for the Israeli systems.

Can the Israeli security systems identify a specific man based on his facial features within a large crowd in a public place, such as an airport? 

“Certainly not. Such capabilities are still in the realm of science fiction,” says Tchwella. “If a person stands directly in front of a camera, you might be able to identify him using a facial features database, but that technology is still miles away from being able to identify someone in an open space.”

Cyber

The Israeli defense establishment has turned to all the leading companies and asked them for ideas in the field of cyber offense and defense. “We have no doubt that as time passes there will be movement from the field of physical defense into the cyber realm. These two domains will soon become intertwined and overlapping. Many things that begin in cyberspace move into the real world. Electric and water companies, and other national infrastructures all over the world are increasingly aware of the dangers of cyberwarfare.”

Is NICE developing cyber attack systems?

”In the world of security, we have never been an offensive organization, and we will never be one".