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Analysis

Smart Card Technology Set To Make The Olympics Safe

When London was awarded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Government launched a wide-reaching programme to ensure the capital’s infrastructure and sporting facilities were primed to showcase Great Britain’s best sporting talent to the world. Preparations for the Olympics are undoubtedly a huge challenge in terms of logistics, but the most daunting challenge facing the organisers of the Games is security.

The numbers of people involved are quite staggering. During the Games, 14,000 athletes, 600 coaches and officials, and 20,000 media representatives will converge on London and other Olympic sites around the UK. Organisers will also have to manage tens of thousands of volunteers, contractors and security personnel, and over 10 million spectators.

Not only do organisers have to safeguard the personal security of the people involved, they also need to ensure they still have speedy and convenient access to the relevant events. This requires a strong IT security infrastructure.

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology was commissioned to compile a report called ‘Technology for the Olympics’ to outline the IT security challenges that London 2012 will face. Released in December 2009, the report recommended that the main technological challenges arising from the 2012 Olympics relate to the scale and complexity of the Games, rather than use of “cutting edge technologies”. When choosing the right systems the report suggested that the emphasis should be on tried and tested technology.

So what steps can the organisers of 2012 take to manage the barrage of physical and IT security risks that they are facing? Already successfully used at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and in many sectors including healthcare and the police, smart card technology is now at the forefront of physical and IT security solutions. Several leading smart card players have for some time been working on tackling identity and access management (IAM) issues to make the Olympics a much safer and smoother event, creating one-card solutions that can be used to provide access to secure areas and integrate with IT or payment systems.

Smart cards can come in contact or contactless form, and can offer three levels of security: single, dual or three-factor authentication. With single-factor authentication, using the card on its own will give access to a system or open a door. Dual-factor authentication adds on an extra level of security in the form of a PIN code. Three-factor authentication goes a step further, using a PIN and an extra security measure such as a biometric scan. Contactless smart cards are traditionally used for physical access control and are now being adopted for logical access control as well.

While the final shape of the IT security solution has yet to be formally announced, many believe that the first cashless and paperless large-scale sporting event will soon be a reality. So how would this work in practice? One possible option is that spectators would buy their tickets online in the usual way, but they would then take them to a kiosk at the venue where they would be identified based on at least two factors; for example, facial recognition and fingerprinting. It’s also possible that the smart cards could carry biometric and iris recognition information.

The added level of security would also play an important role in crime prevention and detection: this level of personal data would make it far easier for Olympic officials and the security forces to identify the perpetrator of any crime and eject them from the Games.

This data would be incorporated into an integrated contactless payment card, which the spectator could use at the kiosks to purchase transport tokens and to fund the card for purchases. Essentially, this means that no one could use another person’s card and the absence of cash should smooth processes and cut down on time spent queuing for specific events. The concept of combining a contactless payment card with ticketing capability is not a new one: for example, some credit cards already use London’s Oyster card functionality.

Our growing reliance on technology means that there is more potential than ever before for security risks from various sources to threaten the smooth running of the Olympics. At the same time, the answer to these challenges lies in technology itself. Smart card technology has the flexibility to deal with the wide array of information security and access control risks that could arise at the Olympics. Smart cards also provide a great opportunity to organise a sports event of worldwide importance that runs without serious hitches or breaches of security.

Smart cards are also presenting organizers with a valuable chance to enhance the visitor experience for spectators, manage cash flow and monitor security and identification issues using integrated smartcard technology.

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Selva Selveratnam is CTO and Senior Vice President at HID Global. Selva graduated from Cardiff University after achieving his PhD in electronics and set up his own firm, bench capital funded, in '85/'86. In 2004 HID Global acquired the business and Selva became CTO and senior vice president.