The Cloud Can Change Everything for Law Enforcement

Looking at some of the developments taking place in the market

Many people envision law enforcement agencies around the country as resembling mythical portrayals on TV and in movies, with leading-edge technology that can track every suspect’s move across the grid. In fact, law enforcement is often behind commercial enterprises, lacking the budgets and mission requirements to install costly security systems. But, advances in and acceptance of cloud technology and other trends within the law enforcement community are changing that, and agencies need to adapt to keep up.

Here are some of the developments that we are seeing in the market for law enforcement agencies.

Look to the Cloud

First and foremost, it is all about security, whether physical surveillance or inside networks. Let’s start with the physical.

Only a few years ago, video surveillance was a difficult and costly proposition, requiring a proprietary video management system to collect and monitor the various available video cameras. Cloud technology has altered that landscape dramatically, though, eliminating the need to invest in cameras and video infrastructure. Now, an agency can hang a camera virtually anywhere and run it through a cloud system. Coupled with new IP cameras, a world of possibilities has been opened. Instead of collecting video for analysis, live feeds are a reality.

More importantly, agencies charged with law enforcement and homeland security responsibilities can use IP cameras to get crossagency feeds in real time, allowing police departments, for example, to view feeds from a school during an emergency. This has ushered in a new era of cross-agency collaboration. And, those cameras no longer have to be static, but can now be on-the-move on cars, aircraft and drones, and officers themselves. None of this is possible without cloud technology.

The focus on the use of cloud technology calls into question which cloud configuration is the most appropriate. Advances in cloud structure—public, private or hybrid—allow law enforcement agencies to move elastically from one cloud to another, allowing for shifting data and information to different cloud environments.

The cloud, in general, is opening up the law enforcement world in other ways, as well. Software as a service is beginning to penetrate the law enforcement approach, helping to eliminate the capital investments and human resources that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive. This enables small municipalities to purchase surveillance in ways that previously would have been unrealistic. In addition, some forward-looking agencies see ways to generate revenues from these services in the form of what the Department of Homeland Security is calling “regional solutions” to data center requirements and data sharing.

Cybersecurity Needs Play a Vital Role

Apart from physical security are the trends in cybersecurity that require law enforcement agencies to closely monitor and guard their own networks. Much of this is driven by public awareness and the recognition that cyber-attacks are proliferating at an ever-accelerating pace.

Just as agencies need to know who is entering and leaving their physical locations, they also need to understand who is coming and going on their networks. That means building smart firewalls to make sure everything is scrutinized, while at the same time allowing information to be obtained and analyzed from many outside sources. And, this surveillance has to include access to servers in a data center, for example, to discourage insider threat.

Agencies are becoming more adept at leveraging technology for lawful intercepts for criminal and security investigations. Today, these can range far beyond the traditional phone call to text messages, tweets and a variety of other media and platforms—all of which can paint a picture of where a criminal enterprise may be operating and how to obtain evidence that can be used to stop crimes and prosecute the perpetrators.

This need for security information management has led to advances in building infrastructure, paving the way for imbedding this type of security information management right into the structure itself, tying the physical into the virtual. That allows agencies to see whether someone inside the building may also be accessing a VPN, either deliberately or inadvertently, and passing information beyond the firewalls. Additionally, as new buildings are being designed, a cloud infrastructure can be incorporated right into the layout.

These types of advances can come at virtually no cost, if planned in advance, as the energy savings will more than pay for itself. In some designs, the heat recovered from the building data centers can be used to heat the hot water. With the right design, desktop computers that might be sitting idle for much of the day can be reallocated to provide computing power for data collection and analysis.

While none of these advances can be a substitute for traditional law enforcement practices, new IP-based technology and cloud services can provide capabilities long sought after but never before practical or cost-effective.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Security Today.

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