Canine Security: Animal Magic Is Taking the Lead

A small band of specialist dogs can identify malware installed on a digital device. That's just one example of the canine security services available today.

canine security

There’s an old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Like many similar pearls of wisdom, it is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st century, particularly when dogs have an inexhaustible appetite to learn.

Two years ago, LP Magazine Europe sniffed out the story about using canine security in retail to detect drugs in distribution centers (DCs). The feature highlighted the growing risk to businesses—not only from an LP perspective, but also in terms of health, safety, and brand reputation—when a fatality occurs in the workplace due to poor procedures. The feature explored the fact that dogs, with their uber-sensitive olfactory faculties were being used in a time of adversity across Europe, to detect everything from drugs to explosives, cash, dairy products, plastics, listening devices, and even cancer—long before our more conventional modern technology can identify the first symptoms.

With this in mind, is there any end to their talents to identify potential corporate risk?

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The Scent of Technology

In a March 2017 article for Intersec magazine, Beverley Webb, lead program manager for governance and resilience at the British Standards Institute (BSI), wrote, “The current UK threat level for terrorism is severe; ominous headlines of cyber-security failures fill our newspapers daily. We place enormous trust in our government, emergency services, and security services to prepare adequately for a doomsday scenario. In a state of national emergency—where power supplies, phone lines, and Internet connectivity may be paralyzed—the steadfast reliability of a security dog and their handler is beyond reproach. During times of uncertainty, tried-and-tested security methods hold a unique value in protecting assets and the public. In what may strike some observers as ironic, in the digital age, trained security dogs and their handlers are more relevant than ever before.

“Security dogs, with their heightened senses, are able to see, smell, and hear a hidden intruder long before even the most perspicacious human. With around 200 million sensitive cells in its nose, a typical security dog’s olfactory system is roughly forty times more sensitive than that of a human. Dogs can also taste smells; professionally trained security dogs can detect smells directly from the source or residual scents, as well as odors which persist in an area after the original source has long since disappeared. Tracing a specific scent to its original source, and the ability to distinguish between a variety of odors regardless of strength, are some of the innate advantages of security dogs when employed in the detection of drugs, firearms and explosives.”

If we consider the WannaCry ransomeware that disabled the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) hospitals and institutions in May 2017, could it be possible to train dogs to detect anomalies on IT networks?

It could be possible, albeit malware and bot technology are not necessarily physically present on a specific PC, but rather attacking it as remote software from the ether. Having said that, a small band of specialist dogs can identify malware installed on a digital device. From iPads to tiny memory cards, these dogs have a rare talent and are finding themselves in high demand in an era rife with cyber crime.

Canine Security Services in the United States

There are just three dogs in the United States trained to find electronic components with their noses. Bear, an electronics-sniffing black Labrador, helped officers locate sixteen smartphones, ten flash drives, and six laptops during an eleven-hour search of a suspect’s home, begging the question how these dogs are able to find what to the rest of us has no smell whatsoever.

For some insight, we can look at the work of Jack Hubball, a chemist who identified the chemical compounds, the so-called accelerants, that dogs should focus on to sniff out everything from narcotics to bombs. To fight computer crimes, Hubball tested circuit boards, flash drives, and other electronics components to isolate a single common chemical in each device—the identity of which police are keeping under wraps. After isolating the chemical, it was a matter of homing dogs’ sniffers onto the telltale compound resulting in the dogs becoming active in numerous child pornography warrants, as well as other investigations where electronic documents were key evidence.

The trading of child pornography is an ever-increasing problem, and pedophiles have been known to conceal hard drives full of images in walls, ceilings, and cabinets to avoid being caught. These small storage devices are typically difficult for police to find, but one force has found an alternative—sniffer dogs.

The Connecticut state police are now using a yellow Labrador to find concealed memory cards in return for food, and the scheme has already led to arrests. The dog is being used to find storage devices containing images of child porn, hidden by pedophiles, a training process that took just 22 weeks.

The success has been incredible. Earlier in 2017, the dog, Thoreau, found a flash drive containing child pornography hidden inside a tin box within a metal cabinet, which would be kryptonite to conventional technologies (RF and RFID) normally associated with LP.

Canine Security Services in the UK

Dogs are also making a major impact in the UK. According to Beverley Webb in the same article referenced earlier, “There are currently approximately 5,000 dogs employed in the security sector. Given the current terror threat level in the UK, it is vital for private security companies to be assured that the security dogs and handlers they depend upon adequately meet their desired level of competency.

“In order to professionally train a security or detection dog, the handler must tap into their ‘internal play drive.’ In practice, this means rewarding the animal for successful completion of a task, typically in such simple terms as gifting the dog a tennis ball or treat. To humans, the repetition of these exercises between the dog handler and the dog may seem simplistic, but in reality, the dog is being trained to sniff a bomb in an instant—potentially saving thousands of lives.

“Moreover, the versatile capabilities of a security dog often mean a security firm will depend less on manpower alone, potentially providing cost savings for cash-strapped organizations that do not wish to compromise on security.”

She continued, “When the first edition of BSI’s dog security standard—BS 8517—was launched in 2009, it was the first of its kind. On publication it was widely considered a leap forward for the security sector, many of whom were influential in shaping its development. With the advent of new advancements in this area, in 2016 the key stakeholders that created the original standard convened and agreed that the standard could benefit from updates with regards to recommendations for best practice and advice. When revising BS 8517, BSI convened a diverse group of individuals and organizations that use security dogs, such as construction site managers, Police officers, and the MoD to develop the standard. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) classifies security dogs as second only to firearms in ‘use of force,’ demonstrating a critical safety need for a standard that provides comprehensive advice for professional dog handlers.

“The new standards provide recommendations on how dog handlers should professionally handle a dog on a day-to-day basis and give detailed advice on how to comply with existing government legislation, such as The Guard Dogs Act 1975, The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, and the latest Animal Control Bill 2015.”

Man’s Best Friend, Criminals’ Worst Enemy

One company that has excelled and obtained all the relevant accreditations is Global Support Services UK (GSS), which is the UK’s leading specialist provider in the canine security field and has been listed by the Financial Times as a member company in the inaugural FT1000 fastest growing companies across Europe.

The company, which has offices in Cheshire and London, is the largest provider of general protection canine units (GPCU) currently operating in the UK and has put bespoke dog services at the centre of its growth strategy, with ambitious plans to move from a £3 million turnover company today to one with a £20 million turnover by 2020.

“Employing the incredible detection ability of dogs, we never cease to explore and develop innovations that will lead to us offering viable commercial solutions that directly and effectively meet the challenges our retail clients face,” said Kevin Wootton, business development manager for GSS (UK).

Such innovations include the world GSS has been working in outside of the retail sector. Terror attacks on vital infrastructure can bring a country to its knees, and GSS is working through government agencies to protect vital utilities. The company has trained a crack unit of dogs to identify damage to supply lines through attack or corrosion—damage that cannot be seen above ground level.

GSS Managing Director Daniel Mailly, MIoD said, “We have developed a methodology to train dogs to detect faults in the underground electricity distribution network. This search protocol will enable network operators an opportunity to identify ‘early stage’ faults, where degradation of the cable has begun but the cable is still active, allowing for scheduled pro-active maintenance, rather than customer-satisfaction-zapping, reactive maintenance. Our dogs can also be trained to sniff out unique chemical compounds emitted by electronic storage devices such as laptops, mobile phones, memory cards, and flash drives.

“This is a really innovative use of a dog’s natural abilities. When a cable arches or corrodes, it gives off a certain odor, which the dogs can detect before it is too late. In terms of the power companies, this is a proactive approach as part of regular patrols and saves them millions of pounds because it detects issues before it becomes a problem affecting millions of people.”

Back in the world of retail, where issues such as the living wage have pushed the price of guarding up, canines are proving to be a cost-effective “man’s best friend.”

“We have developed a DC security concept that utilizes reception concierge, security officers and dog handler patrols that we believe reduces annual security spend by 20 percent, which can then be utilized on other specialist services to bolster the client’s loss prevention operation, such as surveillance and detection dog units,” continued Mailly. “In retail, we continue to conduct DC and retail store drug detection blitzes, sometimes deploying at multiple locations simultaneously. Our dogs are trained in all illicit drugs, including new psychoactive substances such as methadone and spice.

“We also work with numerous national organizations providing a responsive, compliant planned or reactive explosive detection canine service. We operate to a response service level agreement of between two to four hours, with our handlers’ teams dispatched to inspect suspect packages and/or perform searches of the clients’ premises, remove the potential threat, and allow staff onto the premises as soon as it is safe to do so.

“The efficiency of this service reduces disruption to retail operations and therefore loss of revenue. This service is currently utilized by a major shopping center operator, major retailers, and financial services companies.”

GSS also has an academic partnership with Lincoln University’s Life Sciences Department to provide consultancy and support on any of the company’s research and development projects. It has become an approved Centre of Excellence for the UK’s Defence Science & Technology Laboratory.

Mailly added, “In the digital age we now live in, with the advent and adoption of all kinds of electronic detection equipment, it’s only dogs that are immune to potential acts of cyber criminals who could seek to disrupt the technology that is designed to keep our borders and premises safe.”

The total versatility of canines is proving that dogs are well and truly taking the lead and that four legs are often better than two. Man’s best friend, it would appear, is also proving to be cyber criminals’ worst enemy.

The article “Animal Magic Is Taking the Lead” was originally published in LP Magazine Europe in 2017. This excerpt was updated May 17, 2018.

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