Argonne National Laboratory Nuclear Engineering Division

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Vulnerability Assessment Team (VAT)

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Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory

Vulnerability Assessment Team (VAT) projects:

Argonne has expanded its capabilities to protect U.S. interests at home and abroad. The VAT moved to Argonne's Nuclear Engineering Division in October of 2007 from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The VAT conducts multi-disciplinary research and development on physical security devices, systems and programs. "The VAT's expertise and capabilities align extremely well with Argonne's work in national and homeland security," said Alfred Sattelberger, Associate Director of Physical Sciences and Applied Science and Technology at Argonne, who helped to find the group a home at Argonne. "Since the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, this lab has been actively bolstering its research portfolio to support the federal government's national security efforts. We expect that the VAT will be integrated into that work."

The VAT has worked extensively in the areas of product anti-counterfeiting, tamper and intrusion detection, cargo security, nuclear safeguards and the human factors associated with security using the tools of industrial and organizational psychology. The VAT also runs a rapid, one-stop microprocessor shop where Argonne scientists and researchers can have a microprocessor solution - hardware and software - for analog or digital measurements in about a week. Another VAT activity is playing host to the Journal of Physical Security, the first scholarly, peer-review journal devoted to physical security R&D.

The VAT made the move to Argonne because the team wants to make scientific research an integral part of its activities - a strategy not typically considered or employed when it comes to physical security, said Roger Johnston, who heads the team.

More information is available on:

The Journal of Physical Security
Journal of Physical Security

ISSN 2157-8443
Check out the CURRENT ISSUE:
The Journal of Physical Security


About the Journal of Physical Security
The Journal of Physical Security is our modest effort to deal with some of the serious problems with the field of physical security—in particular, the lack of scholarly peer-reviewed journals. There are a number of useful trade journals that cover physical security. There are also numerous peer-review journals that focus on criminology, law enforcement, cryptography, terrorism, national security, computer security, or security management. The field of physical security, however, has long needed a journal that can serve as a central focus, as well as a vehicle for rigorous discussion and advancement of the field, especially in the areas of research, development, modeling, testing, and analysis. We hope to contribute to the advancement and understanding of the field. Physical security is not just of great practical importance, it is also an intellectually challenging, multidisciplinary, fascinating subject worthy of thoughtful study.
For more information: Journal of Physical Security |

In a Nutshell

VAT fact sheets are available as a bundle or as separate fact sheets.

Download the Fact Sheets bundle [1.7MB] |

  1. Sticky Bomb Detection [553KB]
    “Sticky bombs” are a type of improvised explosive device (IED), typically placed on a motor vehicle by a terrorist.
  2. Detecting GPS Spoofing [128KB]
    It‘s easy to generate fake GPS time and location signals using widely available GPS satellite simulators. This spoofing can be detected with $15 of parts.
  3. Vulnerability Assessments of Biometrics & Other Access Control Devices  [150KB]
    The Vulnerability Assessment Team is probably the most impressive physical security research team in the world.
  4. Tampering with Drug Tests  [151KB]
    The Argonne Vulnerability Assessment Team: Internationally recognized expertise in tags, seals, cargo security, & physical tamper/intrusion detection
  5. Better Tamper-Indicating Seals  [222KB]
    Anti-Evidence Seals: Fundamentally a better way to do tamper detection.
  6. Countering Tampering & Counterfeiting  [343KB]
    The Argonne Vulnerability Assessment Team: Internationally recognized expertise in tags, seals, anti-counterfeiting, cargo security, nuclear safeguards, & physical tamper/intrusion detection.
  7. Handbook of Security Blunders [138KB]
    By Roger G. Johnston, Ph.D, CPP and Jon S. Warner, Ph.D. (the editors of the Journal of Physical Security) Available February 2010
  8. Key Keepaway [124KB]
    Securing a secret key by keeping its fragments in motion.
  9. Assuring the Veracity of Monitoring Data [122KB]
    See RG Johnston, MJ Timmons, and JS Warner, Science & Global Security 15, 185-189 (2007).
  10. Human Factors in Security [237KB]
  11. Effective Video Monitoring for Nuclear Safeguards [234KB]
    Non-scary, but believable video monitoring.
  12. Rapid Sampling Tools  [112KB]
    Sampling gases, liquids, or flowable powders from inside a container without opening the container, or becoming exposed to its contents.
  13. Better Real-Time Monitoring of Cargo  [145KB]
    The ’Town Crier‘ Method
  14. Chirping Tag & Seal [120KB]
    A better approach than RFIDs!


We recently were at:

See also our list of selected INVITED talks and keynote addresses on physical security.

In the Press

For more news items featuring the Argonne Vulnerability Assessment Team, visit:
VAT in the Press »


For a selection of VAT papers available upon request, see Publications.

For copies of the VAT papers and presentations on a wide variety of physical security issues (tags, seals, product counterfeiting, vulnerability assessments, RFIDs, GPS, nuclear safeguards), contact Roger Johnston at

Other Publications


Last Modified: Mon, September 30, 2013 7:32 PM


Election SecurityThe VAT has demonstrated easy to execute, non-cyber attacks on two different kinds of electronic voting machines.
For more information and videos, visit the Election Security section of this site.


Self-Assessment Survey - VATThis self-assessment tool can be used in conjunction with information in an article by Roger G. Johnston published in the January 2010 issue of Security Management...
TAKE the Self-Assessment Survey:
Does Layered Security Make Sense for Your Security Application? by Roger G. Johnston

Related Resources

Other VAT Papers recently featured:

RG Johnston, “Mitigating the Insider Threat (and Other Security Issues)”[6.4MB]

RG Johnston and JS Warner, “Magical Seals, Secure Voting Machines, and Other Fantasies”, Invited Talk for the Election Verification Network Meeting, Chicago, March 24-26, 2011 2.0MB]


Recently added to
the Security Maxims…

Physical Security Maxims

Devil’s Dictionary of Security Terms



For more information:

Vulnerability Assessment Section
Sect. Manager: Roger G. Johnston, Ph.D., CPP
Fax: +1 630-252-7323

Argonne Experts Argonne Experts: Roger Johnston
Roger Johnston on LinkedIn


Vulnerability Assessments Section
Jon Warner
Fax: +1 630-252-7323


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