Making Sure Those Videos Don't Lie

SEEING AIN'T NECESSARILY believing anymore. Technology now enables images to be digitized and doctored to show--or not show--just about anything. So when the International Atomic Energy Agency wanted to switch from film to digital video cameras to check compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it had a problem: How could it be sure that the images hadn't been tampered with?

Cryptographic technology from RSA Data Security Inc. provides the answer. When the sealed video cameras that monitor nuclear-plant reactors and fuel-rod storage sites snap a picture, a computer chip attaches an encrypted digital "signature." If the image is then altered in any way--before or during transmission to an orbiting satellite--the bogus data will be flagged when the signature is decrypted.

The filmless surveillance stations from Aquila Technologies Group Inc. in Albuquerque cost about $25,000. Aquila says the system could readily be adapted for industrial security.