Identifying Humans at Night with Face or Ear Recognition

In this interview, Dr. Thirimachos Bourlai, an expert at the forefront of face recognition technology, shares his opinions regarding the challenges of night time facial recognition systems. He also sheds light on the advantages and disadvantages of using visible or infrared sensors for practical facial recognition applications and scenarios. Finally, he briefly outlines the available modalities and developments in long-range human identification technology that can be used in the future to deal with problems of recognizing unfamiliar faces in still image and video biometrics.

Q: Could you give some details on the challenges in identifying humans at night with facial recognition?

A: Most face recognition systems depend on the usage of face images captured in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum, i.e. 380-750 nm. However, in real-world scenarios (military and law enforcement) we have to deal with harsh environmental conditions characterized by unfavorable lighting and pronounced shadows. Such an example is a night-time environment [1], where human recognition based solely on visible spectral images may not be feasible [2].

In order to deal with such difficult FR scenarios, multi-spectral camera sensors are very useful because they can image day and night [11]. Thus, recognition of faces across the infrared spectrum has become an area of growing interest [2-16]. Here is an example – realistic scenario – where it is very challenging to identify humans at night with facial recognition. Consider an individual walking towards (approaching the entrance of) a military facility. A face image needs to be captured by the surveillance cameras covering the facility that can be used for identification. The main challenges are (i) Data management: the raw, relevant (when the human is within the field of view), video footage (that can be several Mbytes or TBytes per day) needs to be narrowed down to information pertinent to the human and his/her face. At this point, applying efficient face tracking and eye detection techniques is very important [14, 15]. (ii) Data quality: improving the quality of the available face images [17], (iii) Face matching: applying state-of-the-art face matching techniques to perform identification [8, 16]. There is also another major challenge and that is face spoofing but this can be covered in another discussion.

Q: Could you frame the main challenges that are person-related, device-related and facial recognition software-based? Any other challenges?

A: There are various challenges with regards to night time facial recognition technologies. I would narrow the challenges down into four main categories:

1. Person-related: variations in pose, expression, including illumination that depends on the operational environment. For example, in certain night time scenarios there may not be sufficient ambient light to capture good quality photos. That is why the selection of sensors (e.g. infrared or other combinations) plays a very important role.

2. Device-related: using different camera sensors such as (i) cameras operating at different spectra vs. (ii) very expensive, high-end vs. low cost surveillance cameras.

3. Related to FR matching software used: (i) commercial software packages, in which the operator cannot access, know and/or change internal algorithmic functionalities (e.g. image restoration algorithms applied to raw data), vs. (ii) academic FR software packages, where the operators have access to the code and thus, can change, upgrade and improve the software (face matching) capabilities.

4. Related to other factors, such as image quality (e.g., image resolution, compression, blur), time span (facial aging), occlusion, and demographic information (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, or age). For example, a face recognition system will behave differently when it is trained and tested using a certain cohort (such as a race group) or when using different cohorts.

Of course, the biggest challenge of all is the combination of the above challenges!

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using visible or infrared sensors?

A: This is a very challenging question mainly because it is very general but I am very happy that I can provide some insight into it. For example, someone could focus only on sensor technology (mainly hardware with sensors ranging from visible, Near Infrared and up to Long Wave Infrared) and someone else on spectral imaging and the information acquired from different sensors, including the software developed to process this information.

Regarding FR both visible and IR sensors are important. Visible sensors have the advantage that they are low cost and the spatial resolution can be much higher when compared to certain infrared sensors, especially short ware IR or cooled infrared (thermal) ones. The infrared (IR) spectrum is divided into different spectral bands based on the response of various detectors, i.e. the active IR and the thermal (passive) IR band. The active IR band (0.7-2.5µm) is divided into the NIR (near infrared) and the SWIR (short wave IR) spectrum. NIR has the advantage that we can see at night but the limitation is that an illuminator is required, which can be spotted (cannot covertly illuminate the scene). SWIR has a longer wavelength range than NIR and is more tolerant to low levels of obscurants like fog and smoke. Differences in appearance between images sensed in the visible and the active IR band are due to the properties of the object being imaged. The benefits of SWIR are discussed in [8]. SWIR may pick up facial features that are not observed in the visible spectrum and can be combined with visible-light imagery to generate a more complete image of the human face. The SWIR range has only recently become practical for FR, particularly since the development of indium gallium arsenide sensors, which are designed to work well in night-time conditions. Another advantage is that the external light source that may be required for regions in the SWIR band can covertly illuminate the scene since it emits light invisible to the human eye.

The passive IR band is further divided into the Mid-Wave (MWIR) and the Long-Wave Infrared (LWIR) band. MWIR ranges from 3-5µm, while LWIR ranges from 7-14µm. Both MWIR and LWIR cameras can sense temperature variations across the face at a distance, and produce thermograms in the form of 2D images. The difference between MWIR and LWIR is that MWIR has both reflective and emissive properties, whereas LWIR consists primarily of emitted radiation. The benefit is that they are both almost completely impervious to external illumination. Another advantage is that they reveal different image characteristics of the facial skin. However, their limitations are that they are subject to variations in temperature in the surrounding environment, and to the variations of the heat patterns of the face that can be affected due to various factors, e.g. stress, changes in temperature of the surrounding environment, physical activity etc. The importance of MWIR in FR technology has been recently and first proposed by MILab [10].

I would also like to redirect to some very interesting an important articles [18-22] and web-links [23-24]:

(i) Regarding spectral imaging, one of the most interesting and informative articles I have come across is that of Shaw and Burke [22], i.e. spectral imaging on remote sensing. Also, an interesting tutorial on infrared imaging can be found at [23], while another interesting link on night vision systems (low light imaging, near infrared and thermal imaging) can be found at [24].

(ii) Regarding face recognition and the comparison of visible against other infrared bands, the original work of Wilder et al. stands out [20], while some very interesting articles that came several year after can be found here [18, 19, 21]. Of course, MILab at WVU has recently published many articles in this area (details can be found in MILAB’s publications [1-16]).

Q: Could you provide us with a review of the available systems and developments in long-range identification? What are the contributions of MILab’s on long range FR?

A: There are many available camera systems used for long range biometrics and surveillance applications. There are commercially available products (including software) provided by different companies including L3, FLIR etc. There are also other systems (hardware and software) designed and developed under a specific research project (e.g. the TINDERS project [25]). Either type of systems has been used by researchers to perform specific biometric related experiments. At MILab, for example, we used two different types of infrared systems for long range night time FR, i.e. a NIR-based [9] and a SWIR-based [16].

In the first case [9], we used a NIR sensor designed with the capability to acquire images at middle-range stand-off distances at night. Then, we determined the maximum stand-off distance where FR techniques can be utilized to efficiently recognize individuals at night at ranges from 30 to approximately 300 ft. The focus of the study was on establishing the maximum capabilities of the mid-range sensor to acquire good quality face images necessary for recognition. For the purpose of that study, a database in the visible (baseline) and NIR spectrum of more than 100 subjects was assembled and used to illustrate the challenges associated with the problem. In order to perform matching studies, we used multiple FR techniques and demonstrated that certain techniques are more robust in terms of recognition performance when using face images acquired at different distances. In [9] you can find the details about the camera system (hardware) and the challenging FR experiments performed.

In the second case [16], we used a SWIR camera from Sensors Unlimited (bulk) or within a developed optical system that can perform long range imaging at day and night [25]. In that study, we investigated the problem of cross spectral FR in heterogeneous environments. Specifically, we investigated the advantages and limitations of matching SWIR (at 1550 nm) probe face images to visible (gallery) images acquired under variable scenarios: visible images were collected under controlled and semi-controlled conditions (full frontal faces, facial expressions, indoors and outdoors, short range, fixed standoff distance to 7 feet or 2 meters), while SWIR images were captured under (i) fully controlled indoor conditions; (ii) semi-controlled conditions (full frontal faces, indoors, long ranges, i.e., up to 348 feet or 106 meters); and (iii) uncontrolled conditions (variable poses, face expressions, occlusion, outdoors, night and day, variable range, i.e., up to 1312 feet or 400 meters). Three different matching/encoding algorithms were utilized, namely, Local Binary Patterns (LBP) and Local Ternary Patterns (LTP) [26], and a commercial face matcher. Our experimental results indicate that our proposed methodology (i.e., using a cross-photometric score level fusion scheme) performs better than baseline (single matchers before photometric normalization) cross-spectral FR performance, in the most challenging (uncontrolled) scenario described above. In [16] you can find the details about the camera system (hardware) and the challenging FR experiments performed.

Top 5 Threats to U.S. National Security in 2014

The U.S. military, intelligence services, FBI and numerous other organizations exist to protect national security in America. Countless budget dollars every year are poured into this endeavor and it is the one thing that is truly a non-partisan issue in Washington. Politicians may at times disagree about the approach, but all Americans agree on the need for a sound, competent, and effective national security policy. In order to determine which policies should be implemented and how dollars and resources are best used to achieve this task, it is fundamentally important to understand what threats exist.

Detailed are the top threats to the U.S. Intelligence Community, and therefore, U.S. National Security, as detailed by James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence in his statement for the record at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in January 2014.

Cyber Attacks

In the past several years, many aspects of life have migrated to the Internet and digital networks. These include essential government functions, industry and commerce, health care, social communications and personal information. Russia and China hold a divergent viewpoint on the nature of state sovereignty in the global information environment and states’ rights to control the dissemination of content online, which have long forestalled major agreements.

Computer network exploitation and disruption activities such as denial-of-service attacks will continue. Further, destructive attacks that delete information or renders systems inoperable will increase as malware and attack tradecraft proliferate. The biggest threats are posed by:

Russia – The nation seeks changes to the international system for Internet governance that would compromise U.S. interests and values.

China – In the future, the nation will revise its multi-stakeholder model Internet governance while continuing its expansive worldwide program of network exploitation and intellectual property theft.

Iran and North Korea – Their development of cyber espionage or attack capabilities might be used in an attempt to either provoke or destabilize the U.S.

Terrorist organizations – Terrorists are gearing up to develop offensive cyber capabilities.

Cyber criminal organizations – Their main motivation is profit and they will continue to pose substantial threats to the trust and integrity of global financial institutions and personal financial transactions.

Counterintelligence

Threats posed by foreign intelligence entities through 2014 will continue to evolve in terms of scope and complexity. The capabilities and activities through which foreign entities – both state and non-state actors – seek to obtain U.S. national security information are new, more diverse, and more technically sophisticated.

Insider Threat/Unauthorized Disclosures
Trusted insiders with the intent to do harm can exploit their access to compromise vast amounts of sensitive and classified information as part of a personal ideology or at the direction of a foreign government.

Priority Foreign Intelligence Threats

Attempts to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus, defense industrial base and U.S. research establishments will persist. The leading state intelligence threats to U.S. interests in 2014 will continue to be Russia and China, based on their capabilities, intent and broad operational scope. They seek information on advanced weapons systems and private data from the energy, finance, media and defense sectors.

Terrorism
Terrorist threats emanate from a diverse array of terrorist actors, ranging from formal groups to homegrown violent extremists and ad hoc, foreign-based actors. The threat environment continues to transition to a more diverse array of actors, reinforcing the positive development of previous years. The diffusion of past powers has led to the mergence of new power centers and an increase in threats by networks of like-minded extremists with allegiances to multiple groups. Below are some examples.

Homeland Plotting
Homegrown Violent Extremists – U.S.-based extremists will continue to pose the most frequent threat to the U.S. Homeland. Insular HVEs who act alone or in small groups and mask the extent of their ideological radicalization can represent challenging and legal threats.
Al-Qa’ida – Despite sustained counterterrorism pressure and key organizational setbacks, among other things, al-Qa’ida is likely hoping for a resurgence following the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2014.

Terrorist Activities Overseas
Persistent Threats to U.S. Interests Overseas – U.S. embassies, military facilities and individuals will face persistent threats in parts of South Asian, the Middle East and Africa.
Syria – Syria has become a significant location for independent or al-Qa’ida-aligned groups to recruit, train and equip a growing number of extremists, some of whom might conduct external attacks.
Iran and Hizballa – Iran and Hizballah are committed to defending the Asad regime and have provided support by sending billions of dollars in military and economic aid, training pro-regime and Iraqi Shia militants and deploying their own personnel into the country.

Weapons of Mass Destruction & Proliferation

Nation-state efforts to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems constitute a major threat to the security of the U.S., deployed troops and allies. The U.S. is focused on the threat and destabilizing effects of nuclear proliferation, proliferation of chemical and biological warfare (CBW)-related materials and development of WMD Delivery systems.

The top threats are from:

Iran and North Korea
Iran wants to improve its nuclear and missile capabilities while avoiding severe repercussions – such as a military strike or regime-threatening sanctions. They’ve made progress in some areas, including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors and ballistic missiles, which strengthens the theory that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

North Korea
North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the U.S. and the security environment in East Asia, a region with some of the world’s largest populations, militaries and economies.

North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor illustrate the reach of its proliferation activities. The nation also recently announced its intention to expand its existing nuclear facilities to include uranium enrichment as well as develop a long-range missile technology that is capable of posing a direct threat to the U.S.

Counterspace

Threats to U.S. space services will increase in 2014 and beyond as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities. Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to disrupt U.S. use of space in a conflict. Chinese military writings highlight the need to interfere with, damage and destroy reconnaissance, navigation and communication satellites.

China has satellite jamming capabilities and is pursuing antisatellite systems. Russia’s doctrine emphasizes space defense as a vital component of its national defense.

Russian leaders openly maintain that the Russian armed forces have antisatellite weapons and conduct antisatellite research. Russia has satellite jammers and is also pursuing antisatellite research. Russia has satellite jammers and is also pursuing antisatellite systems.

Managing Outbound Control on the U.S. & Mexican Border

The illegal exportation of weapons, ammo, technology and people from the U.S. is discussed in this interview with John Woods, Assistant Director at U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement. We also examine the limited controls in place and how it limits effectiveness. He also investigates the infrastructure in place for inbound peoples and goods and how outbound exports are managed without them.

What new technology and surveillance equipment developed for overseas conflict can be used to enforce border security at home? (ex., the automated tracking device initially meant to find roadside bombs), which can now be used to track down illegal border crossers?

We in investigations at Border Security use a tracking device initially meant for roadside bombs to identify illegal border crosses. It’s good for organizations like CBP in identifying and securing the border that way.

We in HSI look at the border a little differently. We look at it as an investigation. We look at the vulnerabilities at the border and establish and identify those transnational criminal organizations that use the border as a way to illicitly move their goods.

That being said, we look at technology such as the control of Big Data and how we can utilize it. Looking at declarations and inventories of things that are believed to be in the country and being able to look for anomalies in that would identify either packages or freight or some sort of trend that would identify illicit movement of goods or strategic technologies, so that we can identify those people and then target them for investigation or for outbound inspection. We look at the equipment or new technology a little differently. We look at more the examining of the Big Data.

Could you provide an example in which this was successful?

Take for example using, combining and putting in data from multiple databases into one analytical support program and then using and dumping algorithms that would look for the anomalies that we would identify for targeting. Another example would be identifying several packages that were being shipped under a false company out of Miami going to South America. We determined that they carried weapons in them and were able to stop the flow of the weapons through this process.

Because with the volume of commerce that goes in and out of the United States, we don’t have the resources to open every container and express package. So you have to be able to find out which ones that you want to target and then target them successfully.

Jumping ahead a little bit, what would be the weakest link currently in outbound control, since that’s your expertise, in the US?

Right now the problem in outbound control is mostly with the people at the land border. We recently went into an agreement with Canada at the land border where we have their entry system as our exit system. So as they identify people and bring them into Canada, we share that data with them so we can identify that the individual has left the United States. Unfortunately, the Mexican border control is not set up in a similar fashion to Canada or ourselves, so it’s not logical that we can use that land border data as an exit system.

So it’s very difficult right now, and the weakest link is probably trying to identify people that leave the United States so we can determine that they’ve left on time, and we’re not looking for people that maybe have overstayed their visa but have left at the land border of Mexico.

Is there a way that you could use the relationship that you have in Canada, in Mexico? Is that something that you’re looking at?

Yeah, unfortunately not because of the way the Mexican immigration is set up. Their checkpoints are further inland than in Canada, so the reliability of the data they collect wouldn’t be good. So they would have to build an infrastructure that would cost them lots and lots of money, to establish the same way we have an infrastructure at its ports of entry.

That being said, we do look at other technologies like license plate readers. The CBP is developing technologies that can be used at both the airport environment and the land border environment to identify people who leave the United States.

Border security, especially in Mexico, is a politically hot-button issue. So how have you been able to navigate the politics of what you do? Or is that not something that you face day-to-day?

Well it’s something that I would face day-to-day, because I’m here in Washington. So I have political ramifications of issues. You know, I have to go before congress and discuss the issues. And you’re right; it is a hot-button issue.

I’ve been in this game for 27 years, and it’s been a very political issue for all 27 years. I came in when they first established the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, and they were going to stop the flow of illegal aliens into the country by getting rid of the magnet, which was employment. We were going to have employers verify people. Has that stopped the flow? No. Have other enactments such as terrorism acts, stopped the flow of aliens? No. Because the magnet is still here, this is still the best country in the world, and a lot of people want to come here and live here and make their lives better.

That being said, we did take an oath to enforce the laws, and one of the laws is that you should not come here illegally. So it’s based on the border patrol and our investigative abilities. That’s where our best bang for our buck is; to go after the smuggling organizations that facilitate the illegal alien entries and stop the flow that way. We use various technologies such as a metal chain-link fence or an electronic fence that has sensors in the ground to identify those illegal crosses and better use our resources to apprehend them and stop them from entering the United States.

So what is the biggest threat to U.S.? Is it economic or loss of intellectual property by the illegal exportation of our technology?

That, to me, is a big threat. I mean, I oversee the export enforcement role here in HSI, and I feel that our strategic technologies either being a.), stolen, or b.), just purchased and illegally exported without license, is a very huge threat to our national security.

We have advanced technologies that make us a great nation, that protect us from our enemies, and by allowing any of those materials to fall into enemy hands defeats our ability to have the upper hand. So we need to protect and ensure that those technologies that are licensable and eligible for export only go to the right hands, which would be our friends and people that we want to trade with. We want to make sure that those items also fall in the right hands and are not used against us. So it is a huge threat.

This article was originally published on

Blurred Lines: How Mexican Drug Cartels Breach Our Physical and Cyber Borders

Border Security Agents perusing the U.S./Mexican border.

Border Security Agents perusing the U.S./Mexican border.

Mexican drug cartels are creative. They’re creative with laundering their money across our physical borders and they’re creative with money laundering in cyber currency. Sylvia Longmire is a former Intelligence Analyst and USAF Special Agent. She is also the owner of Longmire Consulting and has extensive experience dealing with cartels and their money laundering.

Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and your professional background?

I started my career in the U.S. Air Force, as an active duty officer and special agent and I did a lot of work in counter intelligence, counter terrorism and counter espionage. Toward the end of my eight years in the Air Force, I did some analysis on narcoterrorism groups in Columbia, Peru and Latin America and Peru, and others.

I was medically retired in 2005. But, my husband is in the military, so we ended up in Northern California and I worked for the State of California’s Office of Homeland Security at the state’s fusion center for four years as a senior border security analyst. Until 2009 I was focused almost exclusively on the cartels, on drug trafficking, money laundering, weapons trafficking, and human smuggling, etc. In 2009, we had to move and I started my consulting business, I started freelance writing and now I’m a contributing editor for Homeland Security Today Magazine; I’m the author of two published books Border Insecurity, among other publications. I do a lot of training for police in the realm of the cartels and border violence.

What are some of the creative methods used by Mexican drug cartels to launder their money through US-based banks and businesses? Have you come across any “Breaking Bad”-esque moments that were particularly sophisticated?

The great thing about the cartels, there’s not much that’s great about them, but it kind of makes you laugh at some of the techniques that they use, not just for money laundering, but for moving drugs across the border. That’s one of the reasons why drug cartels are so successful and have managed to stay one step ahead of us. We’re always kind of playing a game of catch up.

An example of money laundering is Jose Trevino Morales, who is the brother of the former head of the very violent Los Santos cartel in Mexico. For years he was running a very lucrative money laundering operation out of Dallas, Texas, and Oklahoma in the horse racing business. Where they were basically buying and selling horses and racing them at this track and making a lot of money through the winnings and breeding these horses in a ranch in Oklahoma. They would buy the horses for a relatively small amount of money and then they would sell them for a really large amount of money and they would launder the money that way and through the winnings. It took a long time for the authorities to bust up that laundering ring.

They’ve also recently gotten involved in the mining business. Most people know that Mexico is well known for its petroleum exports and also for its tourism industry, but mining is one of the largest industries in Mexico as far as exports. Now the cartels have gotten into that, particularly with iron ore. The La Familia and Knights Templar cartel are involved in selling iron ore directly to some Chinese organizations. They get involved with extracting these minerals, sometimes legally, but there are a lot of mines that are not legally operated, which is lucrative for them because they don’t have to worry about the permits or anything like that. But, it’s dangerous for the people working there.

So, they will extract these minerals or they will go to legal mining operations and pressure, threaten or extort the people who are running these mines. They will go and they will sell, they will invest, in these mining operations, ship the minerals across the world, and then when they sell the minerals. That’s when they launder their money because that exchange looks legal on papers. So those are just some of the examples and there are quite a bit more.

Cyber currency and money laundering have forced traditional border security forces to be on their toes. Have border security officials become more flexible? Are they equipped to deal with the fluidity of these criminal organizations?

Cyber currency has been on the radar for at least a few years now. The average American probably has not heard of bitcoin or some of these cyber currencies that are out there because they really only got their start relatively recently, but the Treasury Department and law enforcement agencies have become attuned to the fact that terrorists groups and drug trafficking organizations are now taking a look at these kinds of cyber currencies in these markets as a viable way to transfer money from one place to another.

Recently I was asking the Deputy Director of ICE if they have looked into cyber currency and how aware are they of what’s going on. They know what’s going on, they’re taking a look at it and they have active investigations into the cartels using cyber currency. Still, it’s really hard to detect because its so anonymous and it does take a certain degree of technical skill to get into what we call the dark web because you have to use a certain part of the internet that is not accessible to just everybody.

It’s a little like the stock market; it doesn’t have a set value so it’s very volatile, which can make it a little riskier for cartels to transfer money and use it to launder money. As far as how popular it is or how thoroughly it’s being used by cartels, it’s not an absolutely enormous trend right now, but it’s enough of a move towards using cyber currency that U.S. law enforcement agencies like ICE and the Treasury Department are taking a look at it and seeing where it goes in the coming years.

This interview was orginially published on IDGA.

Joining Networks: Joint and Coalition Tactics in Cyber Warfare

Lt. Col. Patrick King talks Mission Command.

Lt. Col. Patrick King talks Mission Command.

In this interview, Lt. Col. Patrick King, Assistant Director of Operations, Electronic Warfare, United States Air Force shares his tips for achieving necessary cyber defense tactics between joint and coalition networks as well as his best practices for establishing the security of a tactical network.

You were awarded the “Best in the Air Force” for “Info Operations Team of the Year” and “Electronic Warfare Team of the Year” in 2012. Could you shed some light into how your aviation and cyber warfare experience has equipped you with the skills to meet new challenges and exceed goals?

As the Air Force’s Information Operations Team Chief, in South Korea, my team was located within the Strategy Division of the 607th Air Operations Center. My responsibilities included managing the Electronic Warfare Cell, Influence Cell—or psychological warfare as it used to be called – and the Cyberspace Warfare Cell. Those three cells were responsible to not only getting our U.S. and Alliance messages disseminated out to the battle space during exercises, but also the planning effort against any adversary aggression on the peninsula. We were charged with attempting to influence—directly effect—enemy communications so that the adversary’s leadership could not hear, see or talk.

The aviation experience I have from flying the electronic attack (EA) COMPASS CALL aircraft really helped solidify my approach to Information Ops warfare; the EC-130 COMPASS CALL aircraft specializes in denying the enemy the ability to communicate, particularly in the Command & Control (C2) realm; i.e., leadership’s ability to talk with their forces and frontline troops’ ability to do their jobs.

Therefore, my background and understanding of the importance information, or lack of information getting to enemy forces and their leaders in this case, helped my team focus on the critical nodes of our potential adversaries’ modes of communication or ability to get information. We were able to shape cyber targeting in the Korean theater and played a pivotal role in the contingency planning in case of North Korean aggression towards the Republic of Korea.

What I felt made our team stand-out was the ability to use the latest nodal cyber analysis tools to vastly improve support to our U.S. and Alliance participants during exercises and military planning. For the first time we incorporated U.S. Cyber Command into our planning and exercise support, which drastically improved our ability to synchronize our information operations support to planning kinetic and non-kinetic strike packages. This new emphasis on cyber planning, using the most state-of-art capabilities available, as well as having U.S. Cyber Command’s involvement and expertise really allowed our efforts to meet new challenges and exceeded goals that many didn’t believe we’d be able to do—particularly in such a short period of time.

Could you share your daily duties as a crisis leader and on-site program manager of operations, projects and programs?

My daily duties include managing the flight operations of our EC-130H COMPASS CALL aircraft at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. This involves the wide-ranging program management of aircraft system upgrades and daily aircrew training of 157 flyers. The crisis manager duties I perform incorporate the emphasis on safe flight operations and handling of any in-flight emergencies of aircraft I’m flying or helping other aircrews aboard the COMPASS CALL that are currently up in the air flying, to recover safely with malfunctions.

Probably the biggest crisis management I perform is giving support to our EC-130H aircrews and maintenance personnel deployed down range in Afghanistan, supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. Our electronic combat group of COMPASS CALL aircraft has been continuously deployed to Afghanistan for more than 10 years. Thus, we’re constantly rotating new flight crews and aircraft into that theater of operations to support the on-going commitment and flights. Our efforts there are vital to supporting and providing electronic warfare (EW) to U.S. and Coalition air, ground, naval and special operations forces.

Since cyber defense is a team effort, what are some of your tips for achieving tactical networking between joint and coalition networks?

Well, you’re 100% correct that cyber defense is a team effort. Everyone must work diligently to ensure safe COMSEC (communications security) practices while continuing to upgrade and install the latest computer protections for networks and systems. Our ability to network with our sister-services, particularly coordinate and information-share, has drastically improved in the past three to four years. We’re much more equipped to be able to email and communicate with others in a secure environment. I’d say that we still have some hurdles to cross in order to make networking with our coalition partners’ on-par with the communications we have with our sister-services. Part of that problem resides in the difficulty of getting the systems our coalition partners use to talk to our systems. But again, some strides have been made here too.

Additionally, I believe that in order to have good cyber defense it’s important to have an effective cyber offensive capability; therefore, any intrusions or alerts can be handled in a timely manner and mitigate risks and exposure. But the bottom line is that cyber defense takes everyone’s effort; good cyber defense and practices must be emphasized and understood that it’s imperative to being able to continue to do our jobs if the balloon goes up (hostilities). Lastly, it must continue to be stressed that a large part of cyber defense rests with keeping upgrades, or patches, up-to-date and monitored.

The public and private sectors both struggle with insecure web environments. What are your best practices for establishing the security of a tactical network?

The same struggles the public and private sectors have in securing websites, or emails, and even on-line operations (especially Wi-Fi) we have too in the tactical spectrum. Again, proper COMSEC and protocol on computers is the best security. Make sure your computer systems filter spam. Maximize encryption. Don’t trust unsolicited email. Be leery of every mail and attachment. Install antivirus software and make sure it’s kept up-to-date. Also, install a personal firewall and make sure that’s up-to-date, too. The same phishing and social engineering techniques that pose a serious concern to the public and private sectors—pose the same risks to our networks from malware and identity theft.

The younger generation is very good at not answering phone calls from people (and parents!) they do not know or recognize. Kids, for the most part it seems to me, let those calls go to voicemail. However, our society (especially kids) is very quick—perhaps too quick—to jump on text and email messages.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to make a moment and check whom the message (especially email) is from, before opening it. The same goes for attachments and links within emails. If a friend has emailed a joke as an attachment and they’ve included all their friends on the email, your computer is more at risk to malware or a Trojan horse virus.

It comes down to being vigilant and taking the time to look at the risk factors associated with the web environment you’re operating in. VPNs provide a better level of security. Smartphone security has not kept pace with traditional computer security on measures such as antivirus, encryption and firewalls. Smartphones are getting better, though, with features now such as the ability to wipe the device clean remotely, or delete known malicious applications remotely, and inclusion of authentication features now, such as device access passwords.

What does the future of Mission Command look like to you?

The Mission Command future looks very bright and will only continue to grow in importance as our society (and the world) increase dependence on technology. The use of technology in our lives–and our reliance on technology–is only going to get bigger and bigger. With that reliance is societies’ dependence on networks, computers to function, and thus, maintain order. Our banking and infrastructure are big targets. We have to make sure it’s protected. Intelligence protection—safeguarding personal information, business secrets, banking accounts, etc., is paramount. Leaders must continue to devise, plan and execute strategy that protects the networks as our technology gets more sophisticated. Mission Command’s ability to focus and network amongst intelligence, technology and strategy experts is key to ensuring that our civilian infrastructure and military power will be able to defend against, and defeat, any cyberspace attacks in the future.

This interview was orginially published on IDGA.

How to Avoid an Eye Laceration

Pace yourself when sipping your first glass of $7 Sauvignon Blanc at happy hour on Friday. Perhaps chug some water between your first and second glass. Take note that everyone around you is munching on half-price oysters, sliders and sushi and you’re not. Eat something.

Take the subway instead of a cab to your apartment so you realize how tipsy you already are. Perhaps pick up on the fact that the vodka drink isn’t necessary in order to re-do your make-up. Don’t believe it when you tell yourself that the benefits of the coconut water are rehydrating you while the vodka dehydrates you.

At dinner, let someone else suggest ordering a bottle of sake for the table. Don’t pick the 19 proof brand sake that’s in a tin bottle resembling a diesel gas can. Or perhaps don’t wash down the sake with a vodka soda. Realize there’s no need to order another bottle of sake to celebrate a fifth friend joining the table. Eat the rice that came with your salmon teriyaki because you do, in fact, need the additional carbs.

Eye glasses aren't so bad when smiling is involved.

Eye glasses aren’t so bad when smiling is involved.

When you go home to drop off your friend’s stuff, reconsider before mixing more vodka coconut cocktails. Avoid awaiting the arrival of your coworker and his two friends. Perhaps consider sending them away. Instead of trying to cover up how drunk you already are, own up to how drunk you already are.

Don’t leave your friend at home when she falls asleep on the couch. Instead, stay home with her. Talk yourself into going to sleep. Stop and think – do you really need to barhop with your coworker, et al? Don’t drink that dark and stormy. Demand to go home when you feel the first wave of nausea. Go to your apartment and lay down in your roommate’s abandoned bed. Don’t scoot over to make room for your coworker. Don’t invite his friend to join you because you think you’re a nice person. You’re just drunk. Don’t initiate a conversation about a threesome because it’s not cute or ladylike. Don’t pass out without changing your clothes, without washing your face, without brushing your teeth or without taking out your contact lenses.

Wake up and drink water. Take out your contact lenses when you wash face. Don’t ignore the dryness in your eyes while you’re stuffing your face with a two-serving, fried chicken cemita sandwich in 10 minutes. Consider applying the eye drops that are in your purse. Don’t rub your eyes when it dawns on you that haven’t taken out your contacts in two days.

When you leave the Brooklyn Brewery to go home for a nap, actually get your ass off the couch and remove your contacts instead of just thinking about doing it as you drift off to sleep. Don’t just brush off the concern that arises when you awake with tears streaming out of your right eye.
Don’t assume it’s just your allergies acting up. Take out your contacts, put in eye drops and fresh lenses. Pop some ibuprofen and allergy medicine. Re-do your make-up and join your friends for pork belly and fried fish tacos. Take it seriously when your friends show concern that you may have pink eye. Decide that your eye really does fucking hurt – but only when you blink. Go home.

Don’t think ibuprofen will solve the problem that has overtaken your eye that is now red, swollen and full of mucous. Don’t pop more ibuprofen. Or Allegra. Or Benadryl for good measure. Call your mom. Put a bag of ice on your face. Call your mom again. Your eye is red and weepy and swollen? You have an eye laceration. Leave immediately when she tells you to go to the doctor.

Accept that you must leave your friends before brunch to go to Urgent Care. Describe your symptoms honestly. Don’t act surprised when your dyed eyes reveal lacerations under the UV light. Feel badly that there are not one, not two, but three cuts. Accept the prescription for eye drops and ointment. Don’t freak out that you can’t wear contact lenses or eye make-up for one week. Instead, accept responsibility.

Walk immediately to the pharmacist. Remember eyeglasses aren’t sunglasses and people can see you looking at them. Buy coconut water and Gatorade. Go home, take off your glasses and let your right eye cry itself to sleep.

The Top 5 Reasons to Outsource Your Marketing

Marketing isn't as easy as 1-2-3.

Marketing isn’t as easy as 1-2-3.

Marketing is simple, right? Everyone is aware of the boxes that need to be checked: Launch a website and set up a Facebook page and Twitter account. Perhaps you assign someone on your business development team the task of maintaining a corporate blog with the goal of posting several times per week. You create a strategy, an agenda and an editorial calendar. Then, you sit back and wait for your plan
to take hold and gain attention, traction and a countless number of clients.

But, sometimes not everything goes to plan. Maybe you hit a plateau of Facebook likes or you realized you’re not quite sure what to post on Twitter. Perhaps you have a sneaking suspicion that no one is reading your blog posts. Slowly, your enthusiasm and interest in your marketing plan dwindles and it’s clear that there is no proven return on investment of your time and resources. You’re not sure anyone is hearing your message and you don’t know how to track your campaigns.

Don’t lose heart. The digital age is among us and establishing your brand online is a must. What you need is a digital marketing plan that includes Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC), content creation, blog integration and social media. Entire marketing firms, such as Cirgenski Marketing, exist to evaluate and execute upon marketing strategies. The firm spends days, weeks and months perfecting marketing plans. You’re not in that business, so why do you expect yourself to be a marketing maven on their level?

Placing your marketing in the hands of experts with the know-how to execute tailored plans is just one reason to consider outsourcing your advertising and branding goals. Outsourcing saves you time. It says you money. Consider that running an effective online marketing campaign will cost you at least $3,000 per month, according to Forbes. The truth is your competitors are most likely spending several times that amount. If that number seems exorbitant to you, keep in mind that hiring an in-house marketing and SEO professional will cost at least $50,000 per year at a base level. An experienced professional will demand upwards of $70,000 depending on your location.

Outsourcing not only saves you money, but it also ensures that your message will be heard. But, there are even more benefits than that. Let’s take a look at the top 5 reasons you should outsource your marketing campaigns.

Reduced overhead

There’s no need to hire additional personnel when you choose to outsource your marketing. Not only will you save $50k+ in salary and benefits – depending on your location – but you can also avoid or reduce costs spent on office space, overhead and hardware.

Increased time management

Even if you have your own marketing department, outsourcing at least some of your marketing spend will free up your in-house personnel to focus on strategy instead of “busy work.” Your team will have the ability to play to their strengths and focus on branding deliverables as well as the business’s core focus.

The gift of impartiality and neutrality

Sometimes it’s hard to separate yourself from your marketing plan. Of course you believe in your product and service – if you didn’t, why would you be in business? By outsourcing your marketing you will have a fresh set of eyes on what you truly have to offer and, conversely, what it is that your clients and/or customers need and want. Outsourced marketing agencies identify and deploy depending upon the company’s goals and its budget alone without being bogged down by a clouded vision.

Expanded talent and creative pool

Your staff can’t do it all. Perhaps they excel at email marketing, but their skillset is not up to par in SEO or PPC. Outsourcing allows you to be more agile on complex projects that require acute understanding on numerous components of the marketing plan. While you might not be able to hire in-house for the functions that you need, outsourcing allows for the ability to enjoy new, innovative and creative ideas and energy at half the cost.

A fresh perspective

This leads to the last benefit of outsourcing: A fresh perspective that is not influenced or handcuffed by an established company culture. It might not be for lack of dedication or ability, or even resources, but perhaps your team may not be able to see the forest for the trees. Oftentimes marketers become too involved with their functions that they forget or are unable to take a step back and analyze their strategies from the customer’s perspective. An outsourcing team often provides the fresh, objective perspective that is so hard to maintain.

It’s clear by now that outsourcing marketing is a viable option. But, who should you trust to handle this very important function? You need a firm who will evaluate your current marketing programs to identify where there are opportunities for optimization.

This includes taking a close look at your top competitors and identifying/developing your differentiation and key advantages over them. If clients already have a marketing plan in place, firms such as Cirgenski Marketing look at key indicators such as the marketing mix and implement solutions to find the best opportunities suitable for your business’s end goals. Next, they develop a customized integrated marketing plan which includes recommendations for the top prioritized marketing initiatives that all will provide the best results. What better outcome is there?