Which security technology is most misunderstood, and why?
18 May 2020
The general public gets much of its understanding of security industry technology from watching movies and TV. However, there is a gap between reality and the fantasy world. Understanding of security technologies may also be shaped by news coverage, including expression of extreme or even exaggerated concerns about privacy. The first step in addressing any challenge is greater awareness, so we asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: Which security industry technology is most misunderstood by the general public and why?
Facial recognition is the most misunderstood security industry technology today. The general public’s familiarity with facial recognition has been foreign governments utilising the technology to increase personal surveillance of their citizens. The misuse of personal data by such entities has led to an overall hesitation to adopt. The applications of facial recognition range from protecting students from registered sex offenders to streamlining the access control experience at airports. While the functions of this technology are as broad as your imagination, the largest barrier to the majority of people embracing facial recognition is the proper use of collected data. To overcome this stigma, as an industry, we must focus our efforts on ensuring facial recognition databases are protected from breaches by incorporating the latest best practices into all organisations’ operations and heavily monitor the ethical use of the technology.
The security industry in general is misunderstood by the public, as most people associate the term “security” with guards protecting entry points. But how do you describe an industry filled with solutions that automate the flow of people through facilities? An industry that uses cutting-edge technologies, such as facial recognition or touchless credentialing, to determine whether to grant or deny access to sensitive data or locations? The way to change perceptions, pave the way for future innovations, and help the general population truly realise what is possible is to make our solutions more public friendly. The industry needs to commit to increased partnerships with schools, municipalities, chambers of commerce, and other community organisations to engage in more education about what security means and what a solution can do for them rather than targeting a product to be delivered.
Biometrics seem to be a common source of misunderstanding for the general public, especially when it comes to the security of the data they use. For example, with iris recognition, many people seem to be under the impression that the systems actually scan the retina, when in actual fact they use pattern recognition algorithms of photos/images of the Iris. Similarly, when it comes to the ubiquitous use of fingerprint systems, there is a popular misconception that data is just stored unprotected and could be stolen or misused by a third party. In reality, it is stored as a scrambled binary representation of the fingerprint that cannot be unscrambled unless you know or have the key to decipher the binary string. In fairness, I think people are (rightly) concerned about their personal information being collected and misused.
I would like to say video surveillance in general is misunderstood, but in the last few months, with artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition making news with “scary stories” and instances of misuse, they have become more prevalent. This leads me to believe that it’s actually the analytics technology that’s misunderstood, in the sense that it’s too often associated with facial recognition. There are so many other features, which can be used, in the smart city and transportation sectors, where an individual isn’t the subject but rather the efficiency of services. Video content analytics isn’t all about facial recognition, it’s so much more and has been used in public sectors for quite some time, but recent stories have the public concerned about what their data is being used for, without knowing the data has been gathered and used anonymously to improve efficiency and safety for a while already.
I think the role of video surveillance is fairly misunderstood by the general public, with the common perception being that there is always a person watching through the eye of a security camera. However, monitoring rooms aren’t like what’s portrayed in movies or on TV. The main role of a surveillance camera is to detect suspicious events and anomalies and alert security staff or authorities, but the reality is that the vast majority of surveillance footage is never viewed. Instead, modern surveillance systems are designed to automate what video is selected for recording and storage, helping to dispel some common stereotypes about surveillance operators copying video footage and sharing it on social media. This automation and built-in safeguards about who can access the video footage make the camera systems more privacy conformant and less intrusive, as the camera itself detects only what it’s programmed to identify.
While the cloud has gained significant traction in the security industry, it can be argued that it is misunderstood by the general public as far as functionality goes. Almost every company out there has some form of a cloud solution available, but the fact of the matter is there are still barriers to adoption in certain industries like the financial market. Many financial institutions today use on-premise solutions for features such as video storage, but we will start to see a transition to cloud-based storage over the next few years as bandwidth improves and cloud storage costs decrease. Until then, companies are being creative in how they provide cloud-based solutions and are focusing on what the technology does well, such as processing heavy functions like video analytics. The cloud has a lot of potential, but manufacturers and the general public alike should be realistic in their expectations.
The answer is easy: the cloud. The reason for this is that there are a number of misconceptions out there that make the definition of the cloud a true challenge. A lot of people and companies are creating their own descriptions or terminology of what it means, as there isn’t a common nomenclature yet. However, for most of us, our entire lives are lived “in the cloud". We upload pictures to the cloud, we bank in the cloud, our phones are updated via the cloud, and even our businesses use the cloud on a day-to-day basis to operate. This notion of cloud is very difficult to absorb in the environment of security when we talk about cameras, which gather a massive amount of data. To truly understand a concept like the cloud, we have to first agree as an industry on what it means for our customers and their organisations.
There have been significant technological developments recently around Bluetooth readers in an effort to transition to more mobile credentials, which is in demand from customers and end users. Bluetooth removes the need for a physical credential and replaces it with a virtual credential for smartphone devices that provides customers with a smooth user experience. One of the biggest advantages for this kind of technology is the cost-effective nature of transitioning away from physical cards to the simplification of downloading an app on a phone. But there always remains a number of misconceptions from the general public around the safety and compatibility of this technology with different operating platforms, distance to/from readers, encryption and much more.
A common misperception in the security industry is that when a camera isn’t recording it’s somehow a problem with the camera. Many times, this follows a typical evaluation of a new or upgraded video surveillance system where the majority of the evaluation effort is put on the cameras and the video management software. However, the reality is when there are major problems with a video surveillance system it’s not typically with the cameras or software, it’s the network or the server/storage infrastructure that is the source of the trouble. Regarding the server/storage infrastructure, the most inexpensive approach of using off-the-shelf NVRs may not be prudent. If video is indeed considered a valuable asset, there are other considerations such as the server/storage architecture that should be taken into account. However, with the right storage, costs can be kept down while achieving the highest levels of performance and resiliency.
Face recognition gets a bad rap but the technology itself isn’t inherently bad or good. Many negative claims come from people unfamiliar with how it works. Contrary to popular assumptions, facial recognition systems can’t identify people they’re not looking for. If you have not opted in or been added as part of a watchlist of known security threats, you cannot be identified and are effectively invisible to the system. Face recognition has many positive use cases — finding missing children, speeding up check-in at hospitals, enhancing security at airports, and providing touchless secure access. It’s impossible for human eyes to monitor all of the security cameras deployed today. Face recognition is a force multiplier that makes security teams more effective and keeps people safe. With sensible regulation and responsible development and deployment of secure systems designed with privacy in mind, we can realise all the benefits this technology has to offer.
Facial recognition is often misunderstood by the general public, as are fingerprint scans and especially what biometric information is captured and/or stored and what isn’t. The cloud is also often misunderstood, as are new technologies such as Bluetooth readers. The general public may also misunderstand how video surveillance footage is capture and/or used. Finally, one panelist mentions that “security in general” is often misunderstood. These are all good reasons why we as an industry should take seriously our role to communicate technology’s value and to promote greater understanding of the reality of the work we do.
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