What keeps me up at night: Attack drones

By Benjamin O. Powers

“What keeps me up at night” is a series where top security experts reveal the threats, technologies, and tactics that keep their industry constantly on its toes. As regular citizens, we don’t know the half of what’s going at the highest levels of national and international security (the true volume would probably induce mass panic). These experts can help give us a better idea of the type of threats we face, and how we as a society can protect against them.

After a long career in law enforcement, Phil Lancaster is now the SVP of Business Development at weapons detection firm Patriot One. He’s worked in the UK and overseas territories, as both a police officer and as security detail for high profile individuals.

Today, as threats to cybersecurity proliferate, Lancaster is concerned that physical security systems are too divorced from digital ones, making it harder to cohesively prepare for a multi-front attack. He has some thoughts on how to integrate those systems–and also the increasing prevalence of drone strikes.

What is the most pressing security threat that faces us today?

Short answer: Physical and cybersecurity aren’t aligned.

The most pressing threats to physical security within our communities continue to be found within our soft target locations, such as educational, religious, and entertainment venues.  These venues maintain a rather open-access environment, which makes the identification of various weapons systems challenging for security and public safety staff. To further complicate matters, attackers are constantly changing their attack methodology depending on the availability of weapon systems, the “insider threat” possibility, and the outward security posture they observe when surveilling the target location.

With the reliance on technology, many organizations are becoming more concerned with cybersecurity. These issues involve intellectual property theft, disruption of the organization’s operational capabilities, inference with the organizations’ communications, and more. Organizations must begin to incorporate cybersecurity risks and their possible responses with risks in the physical security realm. This way, the leadership of those organizations will have fully developed pictures of the risks posed to their institutions.

What is the biggest security threat on the horizon that we don’t know about?

Short answer: Drone attacks.

The increased use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) within our communities should be of concern to our public safety officials. As UAS become more accessible to the public and the technology becomes more sophisticated, potential attackers will have the ability to use these systems in an attack.

These systems have already started to appear off the battlefield. Drones attacked Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in an assassination attempt last March, and Greenpeace crashed a drone into a nuclear power plant in France last summer.  How public safety officials will respond to these types of attacks is still unknown. However, technology companies are now looking at ways in which UAS devices can be identified and, if necessary, intercepted.

What can we do to address these security threats right now? How about in the future?

Short answer: Carry out integrated risk assessments.

Organizations responsible for the security and protection of assets should be conducting thorough risk and vulnerability assessments on their facilities. These risk assessments identify weaknesses within the current security posture and allow an organization the opportunity to make fully informed decisions on resource allocation and support, including the incorporation of new technology to counter emerging threats to their operations.

Also, the ability to integrate our physical and cybersecurity measures is becoming increasingly important. Security threats are growing in type, size, and duration. Relying on multiple standalone systems may overwhelm and paralyze our security staff when seconds count. Therefore, having all systems within our security posture on one platform will help the appropriate responders identify, evaluate, and disseminate information must faster when an imminent threat emerges.

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