What Keeps DHS Up At Night?

DHS Science & Technology (DHS S&T) — the R&D branch — awarded “proof of concept”, Phase I SBIR grants to 29 businesses.  Congratulations to the winners listed below.

S&T’s mission is to work on the tough technology challenges for which there is no readily available commercial solution.  Therefore its funding activity gives a good indication of what potential threats are of concern to people at headquarters.

Biological threats.  The prospect of a bad actor using a biological threat — a variant of COVID-19, for example, or a “synthetic virus” — should be of concern to all of us.  To its credit, DHS is funding activity that assumes it is just a question of when, not if, a new COVID type threat emerges.  One funding priority within this area is the development of a faster “breathalyzer” approach to virus screening and detection.  A second focus is are to develop solutions to give law enforcement vehicles an Infectious Disease Protection capability.  One winner in this area was MagPlasma, which uses plasma-treated carbon to create improved contagion disinfection devices.

Software Supply Chain Cyber Attacks.  Imagine if every Zoom software upgrade came with some built-in malware, waiting to wreak havoc.  According to DHS CISA, a software supply chain attack occurs “when a cyber threat actor infiltrates a software vendor’s network and employs malicious code to compromise the software before the vendor sends it to their customers.” This is a huge field — check out SBIR awardee Object Security, a privately held firm that has done work with homeland security agencies worldwide.

Next-Generation Aviation Security Threats.  As the infamous Australian meat mincer, pictured above illustrates, terrorists continue to evolve their tactics.  One problem is that the best current technologies for threat detection, such as computed tomography (CT), are relatively expensive to deploy and are subject to safety regulations due to their use of ionizing radiation.  What’s clearly needed are cheaper, faster, equally effective solution.  A potentially promising technology (judging from DHS’s funding) is hyperspectral imaging, used by SBIR awardees Spectrohm and Spectrum Photonics. 


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