Northrop Grumman Begins Development of Next-Generation DHS Biometric System

Work is well underway by Northrop Grumman [NOC] to develop a new cloud-based biometric system for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that will provide more robust capabilities in a flexible, scalable architecture to meet current and future needs, according to David Grauel, the government’s program manager for the biometric system.

Northrop Grumman was in the midst of its second sprint, which was being observed by officials from the DHS Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), when Grauel spoke at the annual Connect:ID conference in Washington, D.C. on May 1. The sprint was a first chance to look at the initial capabilities being developed by the company in Increment 1 of the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) system, he says.

The HART system will replace the existing DHS biometric system called IDENT, which stood up in 1994, and is expensive to operate and maintain due to its aging infrastructure. IDENT currently contains nearly 230 million unique identities, mostly fingerprint records, along with 36.5 million enrolled faces and 2.8 million irises. IDENT can also house palm prints and scars, marks and tattoos.

Unlike IDENT, HART will be based on the cloud.

Northrop Grumman won the contract for Increments 1 and 2 of HART, which will enable increased records capacity and storage, more biometric matching transactions, the build out of more robust face and iris storage and matching capabilities, the addition of a multimodal biometric fusion capability, improved performance, system availability and interoperability, and the creation of a performance test environment and a data warehouse, says Grauel.  The fusion capability is scheduled to be ready in 2020 and will use multiple modalities to provide users with a highly accurate identity response.

The core foundation laid in the first two increments will also enable the eventual build out of Increments 3 and 4, which are still in the planning stages but are expected to further increase capacity and add new biometric modalities such as palm, voice, DNA profile, contactless fingerprints, and scars, marks and tattoos.

Northrop Grumman last fall won the contract to develop HART but a subsequent protest by Leidos [LDOS], one of three losing bidders, held up work until the Government Accountability Office in March decided in favor of the government’s decision. Northrop Grumman began work under its $95 million contract on March 19.

OBIM is responsible for IDENT, and will be for HART. In addition to storing the biometric records, IDENT facilitates about 350,000 daily transactions for identity matching searches, serving more than 45 customers, including international organizations.

Originally, OBIM planned 18 months for Increment 1 and another 18 months for Increment 2 but now expects to be able to accelerate the second increment by about six months, overlapping in part with the first increment. The initial operating capability for HART is expected to be reached by the end of fiscal year 2019, which is one the first increment wraps up.

At this point, the first customer will have been migrated from IDENT to HART, Grauel says.

Another capability that OBIM will oversee the development of is the development in the first two increments of a “biometric marketplace” that will enable the office to test new modalities and matching algorithms in the performance test environment to get comparisons against current capabilities, Grauel and his boss, Shonnie Lyon, who is the director of OBIM, says.

The marketplace will enable OBIM to test new algorithms side by side with existing ones.

Lyon says that eventually, HART might use multiple algorithms for the same modality. For instance, some algorithms might be better suited to be used for biometrics that are lower in quality.

“We’ll learn that from the marketplace,” he tells attendees. “We see a lot of benefit to that. We’re in the identity assurance business. So, anything we can do to actually improve that assurance of identity for our customers, we’re going to be looking to pursue that.”

Netherlands-based Gemalto, which provides the fingerprint matching algorithms for IDENT, and Japan’s NEC Corp., which provides the face and iris matching capabilities, will continue providing these algorithms for Increments 1 and 2 although Northrop Grumman is expected to add new fingerprint, face and iris matching capabilities in the second increment, an OBIM official tells HSR.

Full operating capability for HART is expected to be achieved in fiscal year 2020 when the full-scale iris and face matching, multi-modal fusion, the full performance test environment, and data warehouse are operating.

HART is also being developed with strong cyber security measures, Grauel says. OBIM, with help from the MITRE Corp., reviewed IDENT and plans for HART, including customer missions, and created a prioritized list of assets and attack vectors and ways to mitigate these vectors, he says.

Now, OBIM is working with Northrop Grumman to find the best “security controls” based on the threat analysis, Grauel says.

More Stories You Might Like