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SecuritySeal Detects Tampering with Nuclear Material Containers

Jason Hamlet with the SecuritySeal, a device that attaches to a container and detects tampering. Image credit: Randy Montoya

Researchers from Sandia National Laboratories are developing innovative technologies to detect signs of seal tampering, a critical component in security oversight for dual use materials.

One next-generation technology is SecuritySeal, a patented method of tagging and sealing containers or doors. SecuritySeal enables cryptographically secure authentication of a seal and the object it is affixed to providing tamper detection, anti-counterfeiting, supply chain management, and warranty-fraud prevention.

“You might have to guarantee that cargo has not been tampered with or that nuclear materials in storage haven’t been diverted,” said Sandia cybersecurity specialist Jason Hamlet.

The tool is based on national security research focused on arms control and treaty verification, said electronics engineer Todd Bauer, a principal investigator with Hamlet on the SecuritySeal project.

“In nonproliferation treaties, a weapon system is dismantled and the component parts are stored in different containers,” Bauer said. “How do you know without continuous visual surveillance that no one has gone into the containers? This tool can remotely monitor treaty compliance with assurance.”

SecuritySeal is placed on a closed container so that any attempt to open it is detected cryptographically. “When you come back in the future you can verify that it had not been opened,” Bauer said.

The technology is based on physical unclonable functions, or PUFs, the small defects that are part of any manufacturing process, a function of materials properties and tolerances. Resistance properties of the network change if someone tries to lift, slide or remove the film from the surface to which it is adheres, and the PUF response is altered so the tamper is detected. A digital reader checks the device remotely and can infer a change in signature if the tag-seal fails to properly respond.

Knowledge of the private key is needed to generate the right response. If the PUF changes, the private key changes and the tag-seal can’t provide the correct response.

The prototype is a little bigger than a credit card and would fit a truck or cargo container. But it could be larger or small enough to fit a prescription medication bottle. “Seal a truck, seal a pallet, seal a box or a bottle,” Bauer said. “You will know if the container has been opened and that what is in it is what is supposed to be in it.”

SecuritySeal is available for licensing and is in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transition to Practice program, which helps broaden the use of cybersecurity technologies developed through federally funded research and development.

“We are looking for commercialization partners,” Hamlet said. “We want this to be licensed and moved to the next level.”

Sandia has a long history of research into tamper detection and continues to advance the field, providing technologies to the International Atomic Energy Agency and others.

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