Moves by UK police forces to outsource IT services has raised concerns about the safety and security of off-site data centres containing critical police information. Biometrics expert Stewart Hefferman discusses the risks and looks at how face recognition technology could help protect these buildings from unwarranted intrusion.
The debate over the safety and security of confidential police data often centres around fears that cyber criminals could access a police network and gain illegal access to information both on criminals and police officers themselves.
While forces are right to take the threat of virtual attacks seriously, they also need look at the threat of unwarranted physical access to buildings such as data centres and consider how best to protect potentially vulnerable premises from attack.
Pressures to reduce police spending has prompted a number of UK forces to look to outsourcing their IT services in order to save money and improve efficiency.
Around £1.2B is currently spent on IT by the UK police, according to Home Office figures. There are 2,000 separate systems across a hundred data centres making it an extremely complex and costly way to manage information.
Outsourcing IT services will undoubtedly have the potential to realise huge costs savings for cash strapped forces but issues concerning the safety and security of these data centres should not be ignored in the process.
The fact that more police data centres will be situated away from police sites means that consideration of the physical safety of the buildings and controlling access to the buildings is a key consideration.
One would predict that a steady stream of police officers and other police personnel as well as data centre staff will have access to the building with through traffic running into hundreds of people each day. If this is not managed appropriately then the risks to the security of data are obvious and extremely worrying.
Forces are no doubt aware that the need to save money and be more efficient should never compromise the safety and security of valuable data.
The need to control access to data centres is an obvious consideration but one that is often neglected not just by the police but other organisations.
OmniPerception recently embarked on a project with HSBC to improve the of its data centres by installing face recognition technology called Checkpoint to help control entry of staff to sensitive areas.
Staff were required to enrol in the system and gain access to secure premises by having their faces checked on entry to the data centres. Our Checkpoint face recognition technology has an internationally renowned reputation for being user friendly, identification is rapid and the results extremely accurate – even in situations where lighting is an issue.
The project gained wide scale acceptance from staff who were able to still go about their business with minimum fuss and delays. Management were also equally as pleased with the way the system worked as they were confident the technology was accurate enough to spot unauthorised personnel and that it wouldn't be open to misuse.
Checkpoint is also be used by one UK cargo handler to protect the safety and security of cargo – which is considered to be one of the most vulnerable areas of an airport.
While access control systems are currently used to restrict access to airside areas for staff – it is the first time that the technology has been used in a cargo security context. The system is being used following recent concerns by both the UK and US governments about the potential for terrorists to smuggle bombs or explosives onto planes via cargo areas.
The fact that Checkpoint is being used successfully in a number of sectors means that it could easily be adapted to a policing context and be used to protect police data centres where critical police data is stored as a way of controlling who has access to the premises. Installing Checkpoint would mean that only authorised staff could enter the premises and feel safe and secure themselves that intruders would be kept out.
UK face recognition experts OmniPerception has an established reputation in the UK police service through its work in installing face recognition technology into photo booths in police custody suites.
Forces such as Merseyside, Nottinghamshire Hertfordshire use our technology to take digital images of suspects and store them in a database that can be used to verify the identity of persistent offenders. We understand their security issues and the fact that budgets are currently finite.
As well as being effective and accurate, access control systems are relatively inexpensive to install and maintain and are easy to install in the majority of buildings.
The fact that data centres are protected by face recognition technology not only contributes to the actual safety of buildings but it is also a powerful symbol that helps promote the idea that the organisation running the data centres does take the safety and security of its premises seriously.
It also serves as a valuable deterrent for those looking to gain access to police information – both physically and virtually. It helps create the perception – realise or otherwise that if an organisation has gone to the trouble of installing security systems to control access to buildings then it probably has also taken steps to protect its networks from unwarranted cyber attacks.
There is a growing recognition that face recognition technology could add a valuable layer of security to premises such as police data centres in order not just to protect vital information but the safety and security of staff and all those who need bona fide access to the centres. OmniPerception is hoping to work with forces and private providers to install its cutting edge technology into these centres to prevent the risk of attack.