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Company Offers High-Tech Airplane Security

BASIC security for an airplane, a business, or a military base these days hinges on the principle of keeping intruders out: Install alarms, use night guards around the fences, limit password access to the company computer, and lock the safe at night. But what if an intruder or terrorist can disarm the alarm, sneak by the guards, gain access to the computer, and unlock the safe?

Enter Robert Jasse and his small company, Shepherd Intelligence Systems Inc., with a concept in security that James Bond would love.

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The sophisticated Shepherd system is already on the corporate jet of the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation and is being tested on a US Air Force plane. Several large companies, which do not want to be identified for security reasons, also use the Shepherd system on their planes.

The Shepherd definition goes beyond perimeter protection. Shepherd assumes intrusion could be made, and offers a computer-based security system that monitors and keeps a record of an intruder's every move, even if an airplane, a building, or an office is destroyed.

The point of gathering such data? To know if information or secrets have been compromised. Or to detect the possibility of a terrorist leaving a bomb or taking other life-threatening action.

Experts say Shepherd and a handful of other companies are at the cutting edge of the $7 billion to $10 billion security-services business in the United States, which is growing by an estimated 12 percent a year.

The basic system for aircraft begins with an on-board, battery-operated microcomputer with a two-way line that carries power to the sensors and communications back from them. A variety of sensors, connected to cluster controls, are strategically placed throughout the airplane in such places as wheel wells, panels, access doors, and engine openings. One sensor can detect metal-on-metal contacts. Others, using infrared technology, note the presence and motion of people.

``It is an embedded system that flies with an aircraft,'' says Mr. Jasse. The cost of the system for an airplane, around $175,000, is hardly peanuts, he acknowledges. ``But we're continually downsizing to ultimately provide a $5,000 electronic equivalent of the Yale lock.''

If there is an intruder, an alarm is broadcast over a transceiver to a fancy pocket pager that provides details of the intrusion. The pager can be hooked up to a printer to provide a written log of any events.

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``This system can tell us more,'' says Capt. Karl Johnson, chief of the concepts and requirements branch of the Air Force Office of Security Police. ``The components of it are not new, but it may allow us to augment and strengthen our existing system.''

There are other security companies marketing on-board systems of varying degrees of sophistication.

``People have been making aircraft security systems for at least 25 years,'' says Jasse, ``but most have been susceptible to a major flaw or two.''

Captain Johnson predicts the Shepherd system's unique approach ``will likely be duplicated throughout the industry in the future.''

Robert Rothenberg, on the board of directors of Shepherd, says the Air Force is aware ``that an embedded system can provide a great deal of enhanced security. There seems to be a wider acceptance now that protecting the contents of a vehicle is primary. Traditionally there was a policy that said intrusion detection should be set as far from the resource as possible. The choice for the military is perimeter protection, an embedded system, or a combination of both.''

The Shepherd system on the Lockheed corporate jet has been there for a year and a half. According to Mark Braxton, chief of maintenance, ``we feel the need for this system because the jet sits on the ground for extended periods of time all over the world.''

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