The newest digital world developments, such as the metaverse, and increasingly sophisticated surveillance systems open an array of exciting possibilities and raise concerns about the new levels of privacy.
While Virtual Private Networks remain some of the most widely adopted security solutions, there are other ways to protect one’s privacy in the physical rather than digital realm. As such, when it comes to surveillance in the physical world, thermal cameras have been introduced as a way to provide both personal and data protection.
To discuss the role of thermal cameras in the cybersecurity field, Cybernews contacted Howard Glick, the marketing manager at Opgal, a leading infrared thermal imaging company.
Let's go back to the very beginning of Opgal. What has the journey been like?
Opgal was founded in 1982 to develop thermal cameras for defense.
The first product designed and developed by Opgal was the Midron Adom; it was a cooled scanning thermal imager that swept back and forth across a scene, recording the temperature variation to build an image. It was developed for the army and used for long-range border security.
In the early years, we experimented with solutions to increase detection ranges; we adapted products for various applications using different optics, such as modifying land-based thermal imaging for airborne applications.
In 1986, Opgal and our parent company started manufacturing a thermal imaging camera combined with a gimbal platform for maritime operations.
In 1995, we changed direction to take thermal technology into the commercial sphere.
Between 1995 and 2000, there were many commercial developments, including medical, aircraft landing assist, and a cardboard counting camera. Opgal also started investigating uncooled thermal imaging, developed our first camera in 1998, and by 2000 delivered the first project to a customer in Canada.
Subsequently, we became the world's first and largest thermal core manufacturer, delivering 50,000 thermal cores to customers to integrate into their products over ten years.
Opgal also expanded its commercial offerings and started to look at thermal cameras for security.
The first security project in 2006 was for 24/7 railway surveillance, and during the pilot, the camera successfully averted a terrorist incident.
In 2010, Opgal developed its first camera for gas detection, launching the company into the Optical Gas Imaging field.
Can you introduce us to your camera solutions? What makes Opgal stand out from the crowd?
Since its inception, Opgal has been an innovator and market leader in high-end thermal imaging applications.
Over a decade ago, we introduced our first Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) camera to the market. In its second iteration, the EyeCGas is a groundbreaking OGI camera that has revolutionized fugitive emission inspections in the Oil & Gas industry. The EyeCGas 2.0 is the world's most sensitive handheld OGI camera. It quickly identifies fugitive gas emissions for over 400 hydrocarbon and VOC gases.
Opgal is a pioneer in long-range uncooled thermal imaging solutions, which ensures low-maintenance cameras can be placed in remote locations and operate for extended periods, compared to cooled thermal cameras, which need regular maintenance. Opgal's Accuracii XRU, with its 25-225mm zoom lens, is capable of human detection (2-3 pixels) at over 6km. These cameras generally operate on borders and provide risk mitigation and security at airports and other critical infrastructure.
Opgal developed the first FAA-approved Enhanced Vision System (EVS) to assist aircraft with landing in harsh weather conditions. The EVS is now a standard feature in many airplanes to facilitate precision approaches and safe landings 24/7 in reduced visibility conditions, including thick fog, smog, heavy rain, and snow. As an added benefit, EVS-trained crews can descend below-published minimums before visually detecting the runway or approach lights due to the overwhelming safety benefits of the EVS
In addition, we have developed a range of defense solutions, including periscope retrofits for armored vehicles and a range of situational awareness solutions to provide 360-degree visibility.
What are the most common use cases of your thermal security cameras?
For 20 years, Opgal has been a market leader in long-range security cameras, both cooled and uncooled. At the heart of the security division in Opgal, we are constantly working to push the boundaries of current thermal imaging technologies.
The most common use of our thermal security cameras is for long-range detection using our Accuracii range. We have close to a thousand cameras placed along international frontiers to protect against illegal immigration, people trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism. These cameras also provide risk mitigation and security at airports, seaports, critical infrastructure, and mining operations, to name a few.
Often our long-range cameras are complemented by our short-range Sii thermal cameras for perimeter protection or fire detection. The cameras can easily detect movement or even flames using embedded video analytics to prevent crime and damage from fire.
All cameras can work 24/7 in complete darkness, requiring less infrastructure than a regular CCTV camera and a covert element.
How did the recent global events affect your industry? Did you add any new features as a result?
The last two years have been exceptionally turbulent for security and thermal manufacturers.
The turbulence manifested in three ways: the first was that COVID-19 initially brought on new opportunities to detect elevated body temperatures - based on previous successes at airports during SARS.
While this was initially promising, it proved less effective in a pandemic that had crossed all borders and in which most of the spreaders were asymptomatic. Eventually, the cameras went the way of the latex gloves.
The next challenge was the component shortage. For a manufacturer which relies heavily on electronics in all our products – this was especially crippling. Components prices leaped an average of 500%, and you could count estimated lead times in years instead of weeks.
Luckily, we saw it coming with some products and stocked up. We redesigned other products to avoid using these long-lead-time components, but it's still an ongoing struggle. Companies and end-users will have to reassess their delivery time and stock exposure ideas.
The last surprise the world hurled at us was the war in Ukraine. While conflicts are commonplace, this was the first one on European soil in decades in which two modern armies locked horns, and the conception that wars happened in Africa, the Middle East, or Asia only was shattered.
While we're all praying for the bloodshed to end quickly, European governments have been significantly ramping up their security budgets, especially around border security solutions.
The best way to win a conflict is to prevent it by investing a "don't-mess-with-us" budget in one's defenses.
As more surveillance measures are being implemented, concerns around privacy protection have started to arise. What are these worries based on?
In general, simple surveillance cameras record everything happening in a scene, and they can infringe on people's privacy. There are concerns that footage can be kept and potentially abused for voyeurism, blackmail, discrimination, and other non-security purposes.
Thermal cameras for short-range surveillance do not have sufficient resolution to identify a person. Due to the higher cost of infrared sensor technology, standard thermal cameras still use QVGA or VGA resolution sensors. Therefore, thermal cameras may be ideal for applications with high privacy requirements.
Thermal cameras produce images based on heat generated by animate and inanimate objects instead of light, ensuring adequate detection and response to incidents while ensuring complete anonymity for individuals.
The camera resolution is less critical for thermal cameras, as a heat signature of a moving object is enough to determine if something suspicious is happening, ensuring that no personally identifiable details are available. The criteria for visible detection on a thermal camera is 2-3 pixels, which is not recognizable as a person, just as something moving. Video analytics can detect a moving object from as few as 6-10 pixels, so again, based on resolution, it's impossible to identify a specific person or vehicle.
Additionally, recording can be limited only to events and on a specific schedule.
Since security cameras and other physical security solutions are becoming more commonplace, have you noticed any new techniques utilized by threat actors to bypass or take advantage of these technologies?
Before 2008, security cameras generally used analog video technology. The move to IP-based security cameras was a significant jump in technology, for which manufacturers were unprepared. The manufacturer had to take an analog stream and digitalize it while employing algorithms to prevent a loss of video quality. They also had to learn the basics of network security, which was secondary in their market; their focus was on video surveillance, not network security.
Camera manufacturers were slow or unwilling to adapt their technology to a secure network-based environment. Due to the security threat posed by this lackluster approach, the United States added Section 889 to its National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This section prohibits government contractors from providing the federal government with telecommunications or video surveillance equipment, systems, or services produced or provided by specific manufacturers.
Whereas an analog camera is simple in concept, an IP-based camera can have the processing power of a computer with an operating system and is an endpoint for a network; it will have a unique address and communicate back and forth with its network. All network endpoints represent vulnerable points of entry for cybercriminals. Attackers can use endpoints to execute code and exploit vulnerabilities.
Cyber vulnerabilities are a continuous and evolving threat, but effective policies should prevent risks to the network, such as; password policies, encryption certificates, limiting network ports and services, regular firmware updates, and training.
The biggest threat is not the technologies themselves but those responsible for the devices. Without adequate education, knowledge, and training, people remain the biggest threat to network security.
What security solutions should users implement to secure their house and home network simultaneously?
With the rise of home security devices, from network-enabled doorbells and home surveillance systems to IoT appliances, the consumer must understand the potential threat posed by these devices.
As previously discussed, any gadget, camera, or IoT appliance connected to a network is an endpoint device for your network. These devices can provide a gateway to your network, computers, phones, tablets, etc., and can be used to spy on you or steal personal information, such as bank account details.
When purchasing such a device, the consumer must understand the basic security features of the device. Does the appliance come with a default username and password? If so, you should immediately change the credentials to a unique username and password. However, it may be more effective to buy a device that employs multi-factor authentication, which combines more than one level of security to control access.
It's also essential to ensure that the device you intend to purchase utilizes data encryption to prevent sending plain text across the network.
Network services such as SSL and TLS are the most exploited network services, and as such, these services should be removed or deactivated on devices. Always check with the manufacturer before purchasing if you are unsure.
Ensure that the device's firmware is updated, as older firmware can have security vulnerabilities.
It is essential to regularly check with a security professional for the most updated security risks and preventative actions to secure your devices effectively.
What predictions do you have for the future of technology in the public safety field?
We predict that one of the future surveillance technologies for public safety will be the adoption of systems that support first responders, both on the ground and in the air.
Mobile technology is critical to first responders and enhances public safety.
Opgal has invested time developing a range of thermal mobile surveillance solutions to ensure quick deployment and visibility on the ground and for remote operations teams.
Our Accuracii Mobile Surveillance System contains a thermal and visible camera, which can be deployed anywhere within a few minutes.
Also, our Sii FlyTE for drone operators has dual cameras, comes with Automatic Target Recognition and Onboard Video Motion Detection (VMD) analytics, and is coded in a binary manner to deny data extraction by unauthorized users.
Finally, our thermal imaging binoculars can detect potentially hostile people at 2.8km and vehicles at 6.7km, with the addition of a laser range finder to determine the target's distance.
It's essential for the public's safety that mobile surveillance solutions are easy to use, deploy, and deliver relevant information without interference.
Would you like to share what's next for Opgal?
Our vision is to be a world-class leader of innovative electro-optical solutions that create added value for our customers.
As a market leader for the past 40 years, we intend to continue pushing boundaries on image quality and detection distance to deliver more intelligent products with more outstanding analytics capabilities to give the user more control, awareness, and decision-making abilities.
We are looking to make our products cost-effective and improve deliverability by streamlining the supply change to mitigate future supply problems, as was the case in the recent global component crisis.
We will continue extending our Accuracii systems' range through telephoto optics and higher resolution sensors, ensuring effective detection in the fight against illegal immigration, people trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism at borders, ports, and airports. Our goal is to provide the most extended range thermal cameras on the market; currently, we can detect small vessels at sea up to 50km through the fog.
We are working on a fixed 24/7 OGI solution to deliver automatic gas detection, instant alerts across a network, and gas quantification of emissions at a site level.
We are also working on EyeCGas 3.0, a new generation handheld gas camera. This camera will be lower in weight, have a higher resolution image and network connectivity, and be both ATEX certified and intrinsically safe.
In summary, we will continue to push boundaries in thermal detection through surveillance solutions for public safety while safeguarding people's privacy and ensuring our systems are not gateways for cybercriminals.