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BLOG: The dawn of open architecture


Open architecture, often referred to as ‘open interfaces’ or ‘open platform’, is an emerging trend in the aviation industry, writes Smiths Detection’s global aviation director, Richard Thompson.

Open architecture supports the interfacing of equipment, software and algorithms from multiple suppliers to deliver a single integrated solution. For aviation security systems, open architecture can be applied across hold-baggage solutions, checkpoint systems and air cargo.

The move towards an open architecture approach is a result of the benefits it can bring to airport customers and regulators, especially when it comes to exploiting new products and services.

In this way, ‘openness’ is not the end goal, but a means to an end. This does however leave the question of how ‘open’ open architecture systems should really be, to allow for that flexibility without compromising on the security outcome and the operational availability of the system.

The gateway to new technology
So, what do we mean by flexibility, and what other benefits does an open architecture approach bring?

When security systems are designed to be interoperable, or ‘talk to each other’, this enables and eases integration of the latest updates – for example new algorithms. This flexibility also improves agility to deploy new operational requirements, for example improving the functionality and efficiency of a security checkpoint.

When faced with new requirements, airport customers can upgrade with their existing supplier, but open architecture can add more choice in this process.

Upgrades on lane components are potentially made easier and while suppliers may be able to offer best in breed across all components, open architecture offers the possibility to ensure the best and latest detection software and algorithms.

Beyond the systems themselves, open architecture platforms increase the opportunity for information sharing, for instance, exploiting Digital Image and Communication in Security (DICOS) – a standard that supports the sharing of X-ray images and related data.

With systems that are more open and compatible, authorities at departure airports can e.g. share screening results and images with transit and arrival airports to improve operations & security outcomes.

Weighing risk vs benefit
As an emerging requirement, there is yet to be an agreed approach established between industry and regulators which mitigates the potential risks associated with open architecture.

This is a crucial process ahead of widespread adoption, because image generation and distribution are critical, regulated and often classified functions and should never be compromised.

The challenges linked with licensing interface connections span commercial, technical and regulatory considerations. From the commercial perspective, open architecture raises questions around product development, and the potential IP loss that may be involved in suppliers having to communicate with competitors to ensure interoperability of components.

Interoperability is also a challenge for suppliers, who would be required to adjust their products to remove friction between incompatible hardware and software. This also begs the question of responsibility. Who is ultimately accountable for compatibility, integration, maintenance, support and repair of systems?

On the regulatory front, there will be complexities in certifying combinations of screening systems with third party detection algorithms – given that unauthorised connections and interfaces with certified equipment are not guaranteed to have regulatory approval.

This process will need to be ongoing, with each new algorithm requiring certification in combination with different pieces of equipment.

Finally, configuration changes introduce network vulnerabilities, which raises concerns about cybersecurity. Broadly speaking, the more open the network, the more vulnerable it is – and open interfaces with third parties may weaken cyber hardened components of a security screening system.

Mitigating measures
The risks outlined so far are just a few of the potential challenges around implementing open architecture in practice, and they must be addressed by establishing a common set of standards.

There also needs to be an appointed responsible authority for risk management, support and lifecycle maintenance, who can vet third party algorithm developers.

At Smiths Detection, we have capabilities and experience with open architecture platforms and integration. For example, we have developed a universal checkpoint interface and have also successfully integrated biometrics into checkpoints.

This approach has allowed airports to optimise operations, confident in the knowledge that the integrated system will be sure to function reliably and securely.

We have provided DICOS images to third parties for algorithm development and equally we work on integrating third party DICOS images into our own systems.  With our expertise in this area, we are well positioned to be a proactive and supportive enabler of open architecture.

Seizing the opportunity
Open architecture is a new reality facing the aviation security sector. It can certainly pave the way to a more secure airport network if, and only if, the industry pulls together a common framework to ensure open architecture platforms operate safely and compliantly.

The way forward is increased collaboration and constructive engagement not only between suppliers, but between suppliers, airports and regulators. Only through working more closely together will the industry realise the opportunity for a more integrated, data-driven and ultimately secure future.

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