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The Smart Way to Secure Containers

Updated: Oct 1, 2019

Luis M.  Balzac, Chief Communications Officer Eye-Seal


They say a moving target is more difficult to hit. But in the world of maritime container shipping stationary containers are exposed and at risk – and that’s when the thieves tend to strike.


Border and staging post security remain a top priority for all ports in the United States as well as for jurisdictions in Europe, Africa and Asia.  The International Maritime Bureau has identified multiple ways to break into a shipping container without damaging the commonly used external inert security seals. Containers can arrive at destination with security seals intact but its cargo missing. When it comes to security, containers are sitting ducks.


Of course, shipping containers are constantly tracked as they move around the world from the start of the journey to the finish – from port to port and warehouse to warehouse, they are scanned, logged and accounted for at every step of their journey. Yet, one of the biggest problems is partial theft of high value un-serialized cargo such as cocoa, coffee, metals or car parts. Thieves often take a percentage of the load, so the weight change can be imperceptible. A tracked container can arrive at its destination on time but partially – or totally – empty, and nobody is able to pinpoint exactly when and where during the logistics chain the theft occurred.


That’s why last year, group of shipping industry, logistics and telecoms experts came together to design a smarter solution to detect container breaches. It is still difficult to prevent the actual breach and theft – but knowing exactly where and when an unauthorized breach occurs help companies with their insurance claims. It can also help to plan better and safer transport routes avoiding high-risk locations or staging points, and even demand that additional physical security measures are deployed at high-risk locations.


Over the years, there have been attempts to improve the security of the containers. However, given the multiple-leg nature of each container’s journey, the different jurisdictions that a container might pass through, the variety of carriers involved, and the often lengthy periods where the container is stationary and vulnerable, container security can be difficult to deliver and monitor.


Some firms have tried satellite-based security systems but, aside from the power- consumption challenges and expense, anything mounted externally on the container remains particularly vulnerable because its visibility means it is susceptible to tampering. That is why the latest efforts have focused on internally mounted protection systems that aren’t visible or accessible from outside the container and therefore cannot be compromised by the criminals prior to a breach.


However, there is also another complication to add into this security challenge. The companies arranging the shipping, as well as the cargo owners themselves, do not actually own the containers. A typical scenario sees an empty container arrive at a warehouse on land for loading with the goods that need to be protected. It is then driven overland to the docks for shipping. Upon arrival at its destination port it takes a further land journey to its destination to be unloaded – often another distribution center. The container could have been loaded on and off different vehicles multiple times in its journey.


The design team therefore concentrated their efforts on a device which could be deployed at the point when the container is first loaded and later removed when it arrives safely at its final destination.

Developed in the U.S. following a funding injection from Tito Investment Group (TIG) in Florida and the Texas A&M Aggie Angel Network, Eye-Seal breach detection technology is a complete internal security device that is about the size of a small lunch box. The technology will help port authorities, shippers and others to tackle a multi-million dollar problem by simply monitoring and recording each door opening and closure as well as providing data on internal environmental conditions for all containers throughout their entire journey, from initial loading to arrival at a destination.


Now patented in the U.S., the Eye-Seal unit simply attaches inside the doors of the container using just an industrial adhesive plate and one hand-tightened bolt. The unit has patented sensors that monitor the inside of each door from within the container. Nothing is visible from the outside. It uses 2G, 3G and 4G LTE-M cellular radio to provide a link to a central base and the sensors monitor and record changes in the condition of the container. The entire device is internal to the container, which is unique in the market.


Reliable communications lie at the heart of the solution and are made possible by developments in miniaturization, battery technology, and SIM-free mobile connections. The Eye-Seal unit operates using a soft-SIM that gives worldwide mobile roaming and is powered by a small battery that can give at least 120 days of continuous operation – vital for cargoes that embark on long sea voyages.


Telit was deemed the best choice for the solution. With nearly twenty years as a pioneer and leader in enterprise-grade IoT products and software, Telit has earned a reputation for solving the toughest challenges in the IoT.


Telit technology enables Eye-Seal to utilize the SIM in the family of Telit modules in 190 plus countries. Telit also provides the radio technology and the system that communicates back to the control platform and automatically register and unregisters the products.


Security maritime experts have identified that most thefts occur at the ports. In the rare cases that theft does occur at sea, the device will record all events and report a breach once it is back within coverage, and the cargo owner will have forensic data that the theft happened while the goods were in ship custody.


Eye-Seal also uses a military grade two-step encryption process to guarantee secure communications and the reporting intervals from the unit back to the central base are customizable to suit each individual container’s requirements. The system is managed via a web-based platform with a simple to use user interface that provides a full history of all recorded events throughout the entire voyage.


Once installed, the unit’s internal environmental detection sensors constantly measure conditions within the container. Including optic sensor monitoring tiny variations of light within the container, a humidity and dew sensor, battery-status level and location, time and date stamp. The humidity sensor is highly valuable to agricultural customers as it enables them to be proactively alerted if a shipment is damaged by dampness or water, so they can send a replacement shipment.


Each Eye-Seal device has a unique identifying number and as well as 120 days of battery life that covers the length of any voyage and also carries a five-year shelf life if correctly stored. The partnership with Telit provides Eye-Seal with a GSM network rather than satellite. The communications module is guaranteed to work in some 190 countries at no additional cost – making Eye-Seal half the price of competitor offerings. During trials, prior to the launch of the system, the units were already tested and deployed in more than 90 countries – further evidence that the unit will deliver stable and sustainable communications throughout a voyage.


Steve Taylor, a founding member of the Tito Investment Group and Chief Executive Officer at AMPORTS said that the group was attracted to invest in Eye-Seal because of the potential for the technology.


“Eye-Seal has designed container security technology that vastly improves the security of high value cargo in transit throughout the world,” he said. “Cargo breaches are visible in real time and notices are provided of the exact time and location whenever a breach occurs. This goes much further than simply tracking a shipping container's location – this informs management and insurance decisions and also provides insights for security recommendations."


Standard & Poor’s recently shortlisted Eye-Seal’s patented technology as Breakthrough Innovation of 2018 during the S&P Global Platts Award. The Eye-Seal Telit partnership is disrupting the maritime shipping technology. It is time to raise the bar - plastic inert seals located outside containers are not protecting cargo. The partnership has delivered a solution to a decade old problem. We have sealed containers from the inside, monitoring each door and making any containers smart.

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