Honors Gallery

Cargo Containment Security Technology From SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific

Award: Outstanding Technology Development

Year: 2014

Award Type: Regional



In order to improve global cargo container security, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) developed custom network protocols, fixed network access devices, and handheld network access devices that include an Android-based mobile application.

These technologies allow for monitoring and control of IEEE 802.15.4-based electronic locks and security devices on shipping containers throughout the global supply chain.

SSC Pacific’s custom network protocols are a set of air interface discovery, data format, and messaging procedures that provide secure wireless-to-TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/Internet protocol) communications among a global ad hoc network of container security devices, network access devices (NADs), and data centers. Using the protocols, a conveyance-mounted security device conducts network discovery to communicate with a NAD via the IEEE 802.15.14 standard. The security device provides uniquely formatted data to the NAD, which in turn relays the data to a data center via TCP/IP. The protocols enable status updates to be sent from security devices to data centers, and commands—such as arm and disarm—between data centers and security devices.

SSC Pacific’s custom network protocols meet the Department of Homeland Security’s cargo container and performance thresholds for global implementation. Key benefits include support of network discovery and message exchange requirements for security devices randomly moving in and out of NAD coverage range, improved targeting of cargo across the supply chain, extension of security device battery life (months to years) through passive network discovery life and variable announcement intervals, provision of end-to-end encryption (AES 128) between security devices and data center(s) independent of transport layers, and minimal complexity.

The protocols enable status updates to be sent from security devices to data centers, and commands—such as arm and disarm—between data centers and security devices.

SSC Pacific’s Fixed Network Access Device (FNAD) includes a processor with memory, a radio frequency transceiver, and an antenna. Using the custom network protocols, the FNAD transmits a network access device announcement (NADA) to initiate passive network discovery among IEEE 802.15.4-based security devices. When a security device receives a NADA, it initiates and establishes communication with the FNAD. The FNAD then forwards, in real-time, device status messages to a data center via TCP/IP. Passive network discovery and other features allow battery conservation in security devices.

SSC Pacific’s FNAD has several key benefits: it allows security devices to scan a minimal number of IEEE 802.15.4 channels for NADA, as opposed to scanning all available RF channels; uses CSMA/CA (carrier sense multiple access with collision avoidance) instead of TDMA (time division multiple access) for medium access, thus precise message latency management is not required; uses announcements instead of beaconing to eliminate the need for alteration; enables end-to-end encrypted messages using layer 3 encryption; and has a software component that can integrate with third-party hardware such as Digi’s ConnectPort X4.

SSC Pacific’s Handheld Network Access Device (HNAD) is a portable NAD that consists of an external network adaptor that comfortably mounts to a smart phone to allow communications between the smart phone and IEEE 802.15.4-based security devices. With the HNAD’s supporting Android-based app, developed by SSC Pacific and Sandia National Laboratories, a user can control or request information from a security device. This includes receiving status messages, obtaining event log records, and issuing commands such as “arm” and “disarm.” Additionally, the app establishes a connection to a data center via cellular network, where a remote operator can control or request information from a security device.

These mature technologies have immediate application in the conveyance industry, but could be adapted for use in wireless sensor networks, mobile health devices, security networks, and home automation networks. The HNAD especially benefits end devices that are mobile, use low power, and/or require secure connectivity.

These technologies are available for commercialization through patent license agreements and collaborative research and development agreements. The technologies are disclosed in U.S. Patent 8607049, Network Access Device for a Cargo Container Security Network; and U.S. Patent Applications 13/225597, Advanced Container Security Device Network Protocols, and 14/067579, Secure Handheld Network Access Device (HNAD) for Use With ACSD Networks.

As a result of their collaborative work on these technologies, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, the Department of Homeland Security, and Sandia National Laboratories won the 2014 FLC Interagency Partnership Award.