Let Your Hard Drives Tell You Where they Are!

Let Your Hard Drives Tell You Where they Are!
L. Taylor - July 13, 2000

Event Summary

In the wake of the Los Alamos hard drive mishap, one wonders how one of this nation's most purportedly secure and sophisticated technological labs could "misplace" some hard drives containing nuclear secrets. Given the fact that we are humans, let's say that we decide to lower our expectations of security enough to expect the fact that such mishaps are bound to occur. How do we recover and ensure that these sorts of errors will not lead to devastating results?

Market Impact

It's year 2000, and folks cannot get out of their public libraries if they haven't checked a book or video out through proper procedures. Getting out the front door of the Gap, Inc. with an unpaid for pair of khakis sets off alarms. We can track dolphin migration patterns with under-water electronic surveillance devices.

At the MSCPA Animal Shelter in Methuen, Massachusetts, the first thing they do when a new dog is brought in is scan it for a microchip in its neck - the idea is that anyone who microchips their pet probably wants it back (in the event that it is lost and then found). The Methuen shelter has been scanning dogs for microchips for a couple years now. As of June 19th, over 30,000 pets have been reunited with their owners through microchipping.

So what about those hard drives at Los Alamos?

Is it possible that we are taking better care of our pets, khakis, wildlife, and Harry Potter books than we are of our nuclear secrets and hard drives? In preparation for our next "Oops, we lost some hard drives," attaching smart labels to our critical assets just might be a good thing to do.

Figure 1.
A wafer type of smart label.
Figure 2.
A roll of smart labels.

Smart labels contain an integrated circuit (IC) that can be programmed with detailed information, such as origin, location, owner and other information. Since smart labels use radio frequencies, they do not require a direct line of sight to be triggered. As well, it is possible to put smart labels in obscure places to prevent their removal. Smart labels can be embedded in plastic. The smart label that is used on dogs is about the size of a piece of rice and is injected with a syringe under the skin in their neck.

Flexible wafer smart labels are so thin that they can be embedded in paper or foil, and are so flexible that they can be wrapped around a pencil, and still transmit. Smart label wafers can be reduced to 10-15 micrometers, compared to a piece of paper, which is 80 micrometers thick.

Smart labels are part of a nascent market that will be experiencing tremendous growth rates. Germany and the Netherlands are leading the way with smart labels, and by 2004, the European market will reach $4.5 million. Philips Semi-conductors based in Eindhoven is one of the leaders in smart label development. Berlin University for Technology (TU Berlin) is another smart label think-tank.

It is possible to associate a smart label with an asset owner. The asset owner could have a smart card that worked in conjunction with a smart label. If the object left a building perimeter without being accompanied by the smart card owner, alarms could go off, just like when you try to walk out of the Gap without paying for khakis.

User Recommendations

In New Mexico alone, where Los Alamos is located, 382 lost pets have been returned to their owners since the smart label codes were entered in the Companion Animal Recovery (CAR) database. How many hard drives with nuclear secrets on them have been enrolled in a smart label database?

What else can you use smart labels for? The possibilities are endless:

  • Package tracking

  • Text book tracking

  • Pet tracking

  • Hard drive tracking

  • People tracking

  • Luggage tracking

  • Mountain climbing safety

  • Identification and authentication cards

  • General asset tracking

Savvy smart label vendors will make sure they get on the GSA schedule in order to get in the door as a Federal Agency customer.

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