Here's the New High-Tech Way to Catch a Burglar
It's burglar catnip: a large, unoccupied home late at night, with iPads and laptops strewn temptingly around.
Sure enough, one man did break in—exactly as the police had planned. Arrested, he protested his innocence, at least until law enforcement shined a black light in his direction and he glowed like a neon-yellow beacon. The bait he’d lifted was boobytrapped. Motion-activated sensors, triggered as he entered, also sprayed an invisible, UV-detectable mist onto his clothes and skin that was water resistant enough to survive for weeks. It contained markers unique to the location, which allowed police forensics to place him decisively at the scene (the electronic gadgets he’d taken were also dabbed with the same solution). His subsequent conviction was seamless.
This was no episode of CSI, though: The sting took place in the British city of Nottingham, one of several trials undertaken as proof of concept by U.K.-based security firm, Smartwater.
“Criminals hate traceability, or anything that’s trackable,” explained ex-cop and company co-founder Phil Cleary from his office in the U.K. His scientist brother developed Smartwater's proprietary technology, like ink packets in bank heists, but invisible. “We’ve had them attack our solution with bleach or acid, and they still can’t remove it.”
Less unwieldy and less obvious than microchips, Smartwater can be daubed on almost anything, from rings to golf clubs. Each client’s solution contains its own DNA-like synthetic code, which can then prove ownership on any single recovered item; Smartwater stores up to 10 registered items in its central database for $5 a month. Buttress this property-protecting approach with a motion-triggered spritzing system—perhaps when a stable gate opens unexpectedly or a garage door—from around $2,000 per installation.
Don’t Even Try It
The firm’s main goal is to offer a deterrent: Burglars are likely to avoid homes that display Smartwater signs, indicating the traceability of the goods within. Cleary works closely with local police forces on detection technology, supplying whatever’s needed—such as those black-light detectors—to test for its markers. So far, Cleary claimed, 1.5 million homes in the U.K. are Smartwater-equipped, including almost 500,000 in London; on average, he said, in areas where its signs are prominently displayed, burglary drops by 36 percent.
The next focus for his company is the U.S.: pilot schemes in 40 cities across South Florida, including Fort Lauderdale, proved so successful that on Nov. 16, Cleary announced a major partnership with Washington’s police force that aims to protect 10,000 homes over the next 12 months. A rival company, SelectaDNA, offering a similar service has secured ongoing trials with the Los Angeles Police Department; a six-month run in Knoxville, Tenn. reduced crime in the area by 70 percent, according to U.S. distributor Kristian Brandt.
The Future of Personal Security
Such DNA-driven crime fighting might seem futuristic, but it forms part of a slew of new high-tech security tools that allow the wealthy to stealthily safeguard their homes, possessions, and persons. Take Smoke Cloak, a device not much larger than an old fashioned videocassette recorder. Modeled after theatrical smoke machines, it uses a built-in heating element to create soup-thick fog whenever a motion sensor is triggered. The goal: simultaneously slow down any intruder, allowing the police time to arrive and arrest one, or enabling homeowner and family to safely reach a panic room while spraying the intruder with traceable elements.
Two-year old carmaker Ares, with showrooms in Dubai, Cannes, London, L.A., and Munich, is run by Lotus and Ferrari alum Dany Bahar. His firm can custom-build vehicles sleek enough to impress discerning petrol-heads while being as bulletproof as a Humvee; costs range up to $1.2 million per vehicle. The infrared-sensing cameras produced by FLIR are so sensitive they can read the heat signatures of humans—far brighter than animals—up to nine miles away.
Many of these new services are being developed in the U.K., largely thanks to London’s role as the residential hub for ultra-high-net-worth individuals from across the world, not to mention its ingrained surveillance culture.
Allcooper is a London-based security firm that specializes in safeguarding the super-rich; owner Gerard Cooper says his turnover has increased from £5 million ($6.24 million) three years ago to £7 million in 2016.
“My typical client? Often someone with very new, very quick wealth—a football player who’s 18 and all of a sudden earning 100K a week, or a lottery winner, or someone from the X Factor,” he said by phone from the U.K. “If they’ve been on the front page of a newspaper, there’s a different risk level there.” (Kim Kardashian, take note.) The toughest brief, Cooper explained, involves couples. Often, one-half is keen to make security a priority, while the other wants to live as normal-seeming a life as possible. RFID chips offer a solution: Tag a stroller, for instance, and a gated entrance can swing open automatically after your morning walk.
Protect Your Art
RFID chips have also become useful in protecting artwork, which is now an asset held by most 1 percenters. The short-range tag attaches to the back of any artwork via a special adhesive that doesn’t leave permanent marks. Each tag has a built-in accelerometer similar to the one that changes a smartphone’s screen from vertical display to horizontal; it triggers whenever the piece moves, however slightly.
Cooper laughed as he recalled the bonus benefit of a recent art-protecting program. One security team never knew when the client would get up in the morning, so they found it difficulty to ready his car—at least until a painting by the bathroom door was RFID-chipped. When the client reached and shut the bathroom for the first time in the morning, the painting would shudder slightly, triggering an alarm that allowed his security detail to rev up the car. “The guys said, ‘This boss thinks we’re amazing, because now we’re always ready when he gets up.’”
The ultimate high end, high-tech security system, though, is FST Biometrics. It’s a smart security-camera system originally developed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Aharon Zeevi Farkash, former head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate, and inspired by the security concerns of the daily influx of Palestinian workers from Gaza and the West Bank. According to Avil Lupo, a stateside reseller for the firm, FST’s biometric scanning system relies on a complex combination of facial, voice, and behavioral recognition that’s less invasive and unwieldy than iris scanning. Unlike fingerprinting, for which copies can be cast in plastic, it’s virtually impossible to hack.
FST’s system is already installed at such buildings as 323 Park Ave. South in New York. From the bone structure of your face to the pace at which you walk, it can automatically identify whether you’re a resident and open the door for you. Lupo’s confidence in the system is unbounded. “It knows who you are better than you do.”