Know where the vulnerable points are at government installations

You wouldn’t want to give Al Qaeda or some other group of terrorists access to the government’s most sensitive information, would you? Imagine this scenario: you are using a cellular telephone to order a pizza from a conference room in the Pentagon. The signal emitted by your phone could be kidnapped by the bad guys’ monitoring equipment. Then, it could be used as an onramp back into that conference room, where the Osamas of the world have the technology to use it to capture any other signal in the general vicinity. Voila! They are listening to top-secret transmissions.

“The first thing to remember is that, as you apply new technology, especially with radio frequency, you are creating a flow of energy,” said Dick Williams, former director of security for the Department of Defense and deputy director for the Special Access Program. Now the president of a consulting company, he added, “Be aware that high-end government security has a problem with radio frequency because the bad guys can analyze a phone or radio signal that may pertain to any radio frequency, creating a vulnerability.

That is why cell phones are collected upon entry to a facility, batteries are removed, and they are placed in a lead box to avoid broadcasting.”

When it comes to security, Uncle Sam is on top of his game. “The government is way ahead of private industry in understanding this vulnerability,” Williams said.

Seize the opportunity

Since changes in technology are ongoing, that translates to business opportunities for contractors seeking new avenues of opportunity.

At the high-risk end, the concept requires an understanding of “Unintended Compromising Emanations.” In brief, facilities house equipment that are sources of electromagnetic (EM) waves and stray currents/voltages with characteristics that are related to the information content of the signals being processed. If these unintentional emissions are intercepted and studied, an analyst (the bad guy) can reconstruct the original data and obtain access to classified national security information. These emanations may be generated by microchips, computers, monitors, printers and electronic typewriters. They are then propagated through space over telephone lines, power lines, water pipes, grounding wires, ducts, drains, and conduit. Unclassified estimates place interception ranges at more than half a mile.

The situation isn’t quite as intense at lower classified government facilities, but the Office of the Chief Architect (OCA) of the GSA has issued specific guidelines for electricians dealing with security issues.

OCA guidelines state that “Improving security is the business of everyone involved with Federal facilities. Professionals who can contribute to implementing the criteria in this document include architects and structural, mechanical, fire protection, security, cost and electrical engineers.”

Bill Sewell, senior vice president and practice manager for DMJM Technology in Arlington, Va., acts as a consultant in developing criteria for construction on these types of projects and evaluates firms competing for the business.

“The electrical contractor needs someone on the staff who knows these systems and how to install them. From our standpoint, a contractor who understands the systems and is aligned with a suite of vendors, rather than a single manufacturer, has an edge. One vendor is not enough because then you’re trying to put your product in my arena, and it may not be suitable.”

From a conceptual standpoint, he said “new technology includes a security system headed in the same direction as a computer network, as compared to a group of components. The new technology includes all digital components, like a data network, with Category 5 and 6 cables.

One of Sewell’s client’s specifications included integrated security resources, including installation, testing, turning on servers and bringing up displays. The TCIP protocol allows systems to talk with others, and the same evolution is occurring in the security world as companies are using IP-based systems with the same standards and protocols.

Anthony DiGregorio, principal technical advisor for Applied Research of Alexandria, Va., said the public believes terrorism is a passing fad. “It is here to stay, and will require retrofitting added security in many cases and security foresight in the construction of new facilities. There are likely to be changes in building codes in the life safety area that will require security considerations in new construction.”

He encourages contractors to take specific steps to become more aware of the problems faced by facility managers by “attending courses directed at security managers/security consultants to understand risk assessment, security planning/budgeting, the construction process. Rather than entering the business by trying to sell devices, establish that you understand what the security person is trying to do when he assesses his situation. Help him solve the problem. Use his language. When you are able to see things through his eyes, you can be effective as a consultant and designer and installer.” EC