Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/10/02/sky_marshals_randomness_app/

US sky marshals submit to Heart of Gold randomware

Nobody could have predicted this

By Lewis Page

Posted in Law, 2nd October 2008 11:03 GMT

Californian securo-researchers are pleased to announce that America's pistol-packing undercover airline lawmen are considering the use of their cutting-edge unpredictability 'ware.

The University of Southern California (USC) calls its security-operations randomness software ARMOR (Assistant for Randomized Monitoring Over Routes). The app can be used to make sure that security guards patrol unpredictably, or that spot checks are done on a truly random basis. It has been trialled by security people at LAX since last year, and supposedly "keeps the enemy guessing" - making it infinitely improbable that an exploitable pattern will ever develop.

The exact under-the-hood details of ARMOR haven't been revealed, but it seems reasonable to speculate that the kit might feature a Bambleweeny 57 sub-meson brain, sub-atomic vector plotter and a really hot cup of tea, if you catch our drift. Or perhaps cosmic-ray impact logs, said to be a good way of generating pukka randomness outside the Douglas Adams universe.

In any case, the US federal air marshals are now evaluating ARMOR to see if it might help their armed sky-sheriffs' presence or absence on any given flight remain an unknown. A group from the plainclothes air-plod service has recently been on a visit to USC to discuss ARMOR, apparently.

"The [sky marshals] appreciated our demonstration, provided nice positive feedback on our game theoretic approach to randomization for FAM scheduling, and provided pointers for further improvement in our system," said USC comp-sci prof Milind Tambe.

"We hope to hand over the first version of our system for initial testing to them by December 2008."

The covert cloud-cops were cautiously optimistic about having their deployments dictated by a random software package. The Federal Air Marshals Service (FAMS) released a statement, saying:

A key feature of the FAMS strategy includes incorporating an element of randomness/unpredictability to mission deployments. FAMS is [looking to develop] a next generation scheduling system capable of employing the latest technology ... Ultimately, the system currently under development will further enhance the current methods used to deploy air marshals where they are needed most, when they are needed most.

USC say the rando-ware is also to be used in a new national-security centre in Chile. ®