Logo: University of Southern California

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff Visits Campus

Speaking about identity security earlier this month, Chertoff also met with university officials, including Dean Yortsos and CREATE Director Detloff von Winterfeldt

August 18, 2008 — Calling identity security a priority for the nation, United States Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a USC audience Aug. 13 that advances in technology will lead to more efficient tools to help prevent credit card fraud and terrorist acts on U.S. soil.
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Dean Yortsos, left, chats with DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, Randolph Hall, vice provost for Research Advancement and CREATE Director Detloff von Winterfeldt, right.  Steve Cohn photo.

“The most important asset that we have to protect as individuals and as part of our nation is to control our identity,” he told a crowd of about 400 people at the university’s Bing Theater. “If people can pretend to be us, they can do irreversible damage to our privacy and reputation.”

Chertoff, whose lecture was titled “Secure Identity: A Global Challenge,” also noted that some of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks used fraudulent documents to establish their presence in the country.

Before introductions from USC Provost Max Nikias, Chertoff met with university officials and representatives of the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE). The center is an interdisciplinary national research center based at USC and funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to explore terrorism-related risk and economic analysis with a team of experts from across the country.

Chertoff said a secure identity is at the heart of issues ranging from financial fraud to ensuring that dangerous people don’t get past the nation’s borders.

"Our research on border security and exit monitoring speaks to a number of these issues," said CREATE Director Detlof von Winterfeldt, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering and a professor of public policy and management  at the School of Policy, Planning and Development.
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Michael Chertoff
“Secretary Chertoff and I discussed an array of homeland security solutions, including a recently completed study of MANPADS (“Man-Portable Air Defense System”), which examined the costs of an attack on commercial airplanes by surface-to-air missiles versus the cost of a MANPADS system that would deflect those types of missiles away from airplanes.

“There is a very real threat to the United States of terrorists attacking planes,” said von Winterfeldt, who is an expert in decision and risk analysis, with particular interest in the application of these fields to environmental, technology and safety issues. “But the costs of countermeasures to protect commercial airlines are still prohibitively expensive.”

Detloff said the secretary indicated that DHS is currently exploring alternative and less expensive ways to protect airplanes form terrorist MANPAD attacks.

During his public address, Chertoff also noted that social security numbers, like other number identity keys, can be inherently vulnerable to illicit activities when used as the sole means of identification.  He added that future identity guarantees may involve a combination of tools such as fingerprint scanners, tamper-resistant cards and the use of cell phones’ authentication capabilities.
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Chertoff takes questions from the audience.   Steve Cohn photo.

“I can envision a time whether you are identifying yourself for a plane, bank or student dorm and you will combine two or three of these,” he said.

The DHS secretary mentioned the use of third-party confirmation services that are able to determine whether a person is who he claims to be in protecting the exchange of sensitive online information. He challenged the private sector to come up with even more innovations to enhance identity security.

CREATE was the first university-based research program in the nation aimed at improving national security through modeling and analysis of potential terrorist threats. Its work to bring the human and economic consequences of major terrorist events into the forefront of public policy requires a collaborative effort by experts in many fields, including computer science, civil engineering, industrial and systems engineering, economics, the social sciences, risk analysis and public policy.
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Randolph Hall, right, Detloff von Winterfeldt, sitting next to him, and Dean Yortsos, two chairs down, were among those filling USC's Bing Theater.    Steve Cohn photo.

CREATE’s research team includes more than 30 faculty researchers and more than 40 research assistants from USC and other universities across the nation. USC’s expertise comes from faculty in the Viterbi School’s Information Sciences Institute and Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, as well as USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development.