Paint it ... sandy brown

GCN Insider | Products & Trends that affect the way government uses technology

Since the National Institute of Standards and Technology famously equated Wi-Fi access to putting an Ethernet connection in your parking lot, securing the wireless local-area network has been a challenge.

The solution turns out to be as plain as the paint on your wall. It's a conductive coating from EM-SEC Technologies.

'It's a quick way of shielding a room,' said technology director Robert Boyd. 'It's a paint applied with commercial paint technology,' which means it can be sprayed, brushed or rolled onto the walls, ceilings and floors of your building to stop those pesky radio waves from leaking out and giving unauthorized users access to your network or data.

The company recently reported test results showing a 1,000-to-1 reduction in signal strength from the 30 MHz to the 18 GHz bands through walls painted with EM-SEC 2060, a water-based shield coating.

EM-SEC is commercializing the product, but it was created to secure Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs) for the government. 'We've had this technology in the Defense Department and other agencies for about six years now,' Boyd said.

Just how paint is made conductive to block radio waves is a trade secret. But its origins go back to efforts to replace electroplating.

'In the beginning, it wasn't very good,' Boyd said. But the quality today is good enough to create printed circuits and antennas. Similar products then were developed for the aviation industry when metal housings for electronic components were replaced with lighter plastics and composites. The coating worked on aircraft parts, and EM-SEC then began using it to shield military vehicles.

'We said, 'If we can shield all of these things, why can't we make a SCIF room out of it?' ' Boyd said. So they did, and DOD approved it and began using it to shield secure facilities.

The only downside to EM-SEC 2060 that it comes in only one color: a sandy brown. But it can be painted over with any latex paint, and that's what most customers do, Boyd said. If they can come up with a designer name for the color, something like Desert Dusk, say, they could promote it as a feature and charge a few more bucks a gallon.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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