As Surveillance Video Gets Smarter, It'll Know When To Be Suspicious - InformationWeek

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As Surveillance Video Gets Smarter, It'll Know When To Be Suspicious

IBM, Cisco, and other vendors are introducing systems that combine data with digital video

New York last week revealed that it's been using digital surveillance cameras on city buses in a test begun this fall. What if those video cameras didn't just watch what's happening but also knew what to look for?

That's the idea behind integrating physical security monitoring with data from IT systems. IBM last week introduced digital video surveillance technology called Smart Surveillance System, or S3. It's a piece of middleware for use in camera, radar, chemical-sensor, and audio-based surveillance systems that uses algorithms to detect suspicious activity and send up red flags when necessary. So the system might know when a truck's lingered too long in the wrong area of an airport, if someone tries to enter the airport gate area, or if a customer grabs an item and walks past a cashier without paying. Such actions could send alerts such as text messages or pages to security personnel.

IBM, which uses the system internally, has demonstrated it to some government agencies and companies, but it won't be available until early next year. That's when IBM will offer the middleware's advanced analytical capabilities as part of a package that will include the ability for security professionals to more quickly search archived digital video footage. Scanning hours, sometimes days, of footage delays security investigations and is much less precise than using an algorithm to search for a specific image, something IBM promises to deliver.


In New York's $5.2 million pilot program launched in September, six city buses have been equipped with Integrian cameras that capture views of the driver, passengers, and external traffic on an onboard hard drive, which is wirelessly uploaded to a central server during refueling. The transit authority will keep video data for 90 days.

The IBM system also is designed to connect surveillance equipment over an IP network with data sources such as retail point-of-sale and inventory systems, and even customer and employee data.

Have exact change and a smile ready

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Have exact change and a smile ready
IBM will need such features to take on rivals, including Cisco Systems. Cisco plans to offer an interface that adds IP-based access control and unified identity management capabilities to Assa Abloy's badge readers and door lock components. Cisco got into this business in April, when it acquired SyPixx Networks, a maker of video surveillance software and hardware.

Another competitor, Imprivata, this month begins shipping the latest version of its OneSign appliance for integrating physical and IT security, improving single sign-on and authentication management. With an interface based on the Service Provisioning Markup Language, or SPML, the appliance lets a company's user identity management system create and maintain user accounts, applications, and authentication credentials. "We capture the event of entering the building and feed that event to correlate with your identity in the system," says Imprivata CEO Omar Hussain. If a worker who's already badged into the building tries to access the network remotely, the system will raise red flags.

The challenge for IBM and other smart-surveillance tech vendors is to make systems that can process and search images faster, and are cheaper and scalable enough to connect every camera in a building, says Charles Palmer, IBM Research Labs' CTO of security and privacy. Then there's the question of privacy, a big reason, despite the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, that surveillance technology hasn't gained widespread use. The American Civil Liberties Union has urged Congress to investigate the privacy implications of video surveillance. IBM says its system contains features that let images of individuals not under suspicion be stripped out. A good option--unless you believe the government suspects everyone.

with Paul McDougall

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