Research and tech helps keep U.S. safe


Every day, the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity Center sifts through almost a  billion pieces of digital data to find threats to the United States’ security.

That’s a daunting task, said Ryan Eddy, deputy director of Northwest Regional Technology Center for Homeland Security at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., which helped set up the center. But that’s the kind of work necessary to protect our security, Eddy said.

Eddy was the featured speaker at Tuesday night’s East Oregonian Forum. Almost 50 people came to the Science and Technology Building at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton for Eddy’s presentation.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is one of the United States Department of Energy’s national laboratories and works on cutting edge research and science to meet key national needs, including the fight against terrorism. Now, Eddy said, more than half of the lab’s business is security driven.

Much of that is cybersecurity, a broad umbrella Eddy said covers the power grid, high performance computing, software and more. And the threats to that security range from the “lone wolf” to state-sponsored terrorism.

“It is very hard, difficult work,” Eddy said. “You are dealing with a variety of elements that are very advanced. It’s hard to stay two steps ahead.”

Along with helping to better track and stop threats to the nation’s cyber infrastructure, Eddy said PNNL has and is developing technology to help find and identify bombs, particularly radioactive threats.

Currently more than 99 percent of cargo containers coming into the U.S. undergo scans for radiation using technology PNNL developed, he said. A container gets checked if a detector goes off.

So far, those checks have all been benign, he said. But the goal is still to scan every container.

A key to finding threats, Eddy said, is finding “signatures” — unique or distinguishing clues that can point to a threat. PNNL is in a constant race to identify new signatures and improve detection efforts.

Another PNNL research project serves as  the basis for the modern airport body scanner, Eddy said. Its first commercial use was in the garment industry, which used the scanners to assure clothes fit.

Tuesday’s forum was the first of four scheduled for this year. The February session will feature Barry Horowitz on the topic of the international shipping industry. March will focus on perspectives on the U.S. economy and global recovery with Jim Timmons. The April forum will be announced later.

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