Combating terrorism with light and metaphors

While the so-called crusade against terrorism may not be as hot here as south of the border, Canadian software companies are playing a key role in combating this threat.

Highly innovative security systems – developed by Canadian firms – are being used by law enforcement agencies and organizations the world over to pre-empt or respond to security threats and to combat terrorism.

“Canadian companies are very innovative and creative,” says Greg Scorsone, director at Domus IT Security Laboratory. “They develop new technology or interesting adaptations on older technology that positions them well in the marketplace.”

Based in Ottawa, Domus IT Security Laboratory provides third party product evaluations and independent validation of security software developers’ claims. Domus has been testing security products developed in North America, Europe and Asia for almost 10 years.

The number of companies doing software development in Canada has definitely increased, Scorsone says. “And they’re operating on a global scale so they’re not just selling in Canada but all over the world.”

According to Scorsone, the lab’s business is booming as there has been a marked increase in concern for security worldwide since 9/11. “This is definitely a growth industry,” he says.

And this presents a great opportunity for Canadian companies with original and innovative security offerings.

One of them is Optosecurity Inc. based in Sainte-Foy, Quebec. The company has developed a unique image analysis system that uses light in an optical computing system to boost the speed and accuracy of weapons detection in baggage and cargo containers.

“The technology we use was spun off from the National Optics Institute’s (INO) research,” says Eric Bergeron, president and CEO of Optosecurity. “It was initially developed for the Department of National Defense (DND) to recognize enemy targets.”

Currently, no system exists anywhere in the world that automates cargo screening. Human baggage handlers must interpret the blurry images produced by x-ray machines, says Bergeron.

Optosecurity’s system analyzes x-ray images with lasers and lenses instead of software and chips to recognize the shapes of potential threats: guns, explosives, knives and so on, he says.

“Instead of writing lines of code to duplicate a mathematical operation, image processing is done physically with light beams. We do very complex calculations literally at the speed of light,” says Bergeron.

The optical system boosts accuracy as well as speed, he says. Standard digital machine vision technology fails when confronted with the superimposition of two images.

“If there’s a knife on top of a gun, the computer will see one object that looks like the two objects superimposed one [on top of] the other. Detection will fail, because there’s no object that matches that in the database of threat images,” says Bergeron. “The way our system is built, it has high resistance to visual “noise”. It’s designed to punch through the typical clutter in a suitcase.”

Optosecurity is conducting a pilot project with a North American government agency. In tests, the optical system’s success rate is much higher compared with human processing, but information about the system’s specific success rate is classified, says Bergeron.

Another Canadian company with an innovative approach to security is Vancouver, B.C.-based Visiphor Canada (formerly Imagis Technologies Inc.)

The company has developed middleware that uses visual metaphors to speed up data integration. It is conducting a pilot project with the US Department of Homeland Security to facilitate data sharing across 22 agencies running disparate internal systems.

“Our tool automatically generates a lot of the code needed to connect systems, because we use visual metaphors to describe data and data attributes,” says Eric Westra, manager of marketing and communications at Visiphor. “It is like using graphic software such as Visio, except instead of just ending up with a picture, you end up with a system that works.”

The system provides a visual canvas that presents all the different system architectural elements to be connected.

“The design is the implementation,” says Westra. “Users drag and drop different system elements onto the canvas and draw arrows in between to connect them. They can then drill down to look at their actual attributes and apply transformations and queries to make the data consistent across systems.”

Visiphor’s system also offers features that enhance a system’s capacity to share data once connected.

“We have a methodology that allows users to iteratively start sharing data, then share a little more, and so on as each proof of concept is delivered. This helps to build trust and allows users to integrate more data, as [it] overcomes a lot of the political and economic concerns typical in integration products,” says Westra.

“The technology has evolved to the point where it is no longer the issue; it’s the politics of sharing information that needs to be addressed,” he says.

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