The UK is under constant threat from dangerous agents. Historically, attacks have come from larger terrorist cells such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, who channel their hatred of Western culture into devastating attacks designed to inflict maximum carnage and inject fear into society. However, the threat is evolving from large scale, planned attacks to smaller-scale attacks from radicalised individuals who are typically much harder to detect and stop ahead of time.
The growing threat
Increasingly, we are seeing attacks carried out by lone actors. Unlike larger terrorist attacks that tend to be more organised and sophisticated, these attacks require a lot less planning and are usually lower tech. This means that they are extremely difficult to predict and exceedingly hard to stop.
As social media continues to permeate every aspect of daily life, it’s now easier than ever for any individual to access radical content online. As a result, terrorist groups are able to weaponise the internet in an unprecedented way, especially as a tool to radicalise unstable individuals. Online propaganda, such as al-Qaeda’s English language online magazine, Inspire, is used to urge young, radicalised individuals to carry out whatever attack they can, however low tech it may be. In Manchester in May 2017, twenty-two people were killed and over sixty injured when a terrorist
detonated a bomb in the foyer of a music venue. The suicide bomber was acting alone with a home-made bomb. The scale of this attack, prepared and executed by just one individual, shows how
dangerous lone wolf attacks really are. The sad reality is that this is only one example, drawn from a multitude of lone actor attacks in the UK, Europe and USA.
As more and more people around the world having unfiltered access to the internet, this poses a growing threat. When considering that random external factors such as relationship breakdowns and job loss can act as triggers, these attacks are even more unpredictable and difficult to police. Security services are under unrelenting pressure to monitor this threat, gather intelligence and break up terrorist plots. In a report, Europol said that there were 205 foiled, failed and completed terror attacks in the EU in 2017, marking an alarming 45% increase from the number recorded in
2016. It’s clear to see that the UK and EU intelligence and security services are doing incredible work defending Europe against attacks, but we can’t expect them to win every time, especially when lone actor attacks are so much harder to intercept.
Attacks such as the one in Manchester serve as poignant reminders of how we are still vulnerable, still exposed and still too often defenceless against these types of attacks.
Soft targets and social attitudes
The common thread linking these attacks is that they are directed at soft targets by a typically unsophisticated attacker. Soft targets, like music venues and schools, are especially vulnerable to
attacks. Logic dictates that in response to the heightened threat, they should deploy extensive security systems to defend themselves. However, security systems are expensive to deploy and
particularly in the case of solutions like barriers and physical body searches, can be cumbersome and obstructive to the public.
It is true that sometimes, in order for people to feel safe it is necessary for security measures to be visible. For example, in airports, it is reassuring for the public to physically go through each security step before boarding a plane.
In cases like these, multi-sensor technology will supplement rather than replace measures that are already in place. But equally, it is important to note that if security systems become too obstructive, then public opinion will turn against them and policymakers will be pressured to remove said systems, leaving us more vulnerable.
When considering the visibility of security systems in ordinary, day-to-day life, it’s clear that a balance must be struck between risk and reassurance. We need unobtrusive detection security that allows people to live their normal lives, safely.
Reliance on retrospective security
Currently in the UK, many of the security measures that we rely on only offer retrospective intelligence. Take the public transport system for example. The London Underground is monitored
by surveillance cameras that prove invaluable when it comes to identifying individuals in the aftermath of attacks, as was the case with the infamous London tube bombings of 2005, where the attackers were later seen on CCTV entering the station before the bombing. However, this often does nothing to prevent the attack ahead of time.
Security isn’t just about preventing terror attacks. In the case of stabbings and shootings, there are generally no systems in place that can detect a weapon ahead of time. Instead, police are called to
the scene of the attack after it has happened and are then reliant on the accounts of eyewitnesses or CCTV to catch the assailant. In order to better protect the citizenry, security measures need to
become more proactive and responsive to threats ahead of time.
The smart solution
Police and intelligence services are undoubtedly doing their best against a challenging backdrop of increased pressure, budget cuts and rising threat levels, but the rise of lone actor attacks and knife crime is unrelenting and current security measures are not enough. Law enforcement agencies are under a lot of pressure to protect the public, and now, the introduction of new technology can help police to prevent attacks ahead of time. Recent advances in the development of smart sensors mean that we can now potentially identify weapons before attackers have the opportunity to use them.
This new technology means the burden on police can be lessened and they would be capable of operating more efficiently by responding to attacks before they happen. Furthermore, by using algorithms to identify threats, all bias and pre-conceptions that manifest themselves when people are identifying threats are removed. By detecting for threatening objects, non-personal judgements are made, and people’s personal privacy is protected. This benefit should come as welcome relief for law enforcement and security professionals who frequently find themselves under scrutiny for bias. People do not want to live in a fortress.
They generally do not want to be protected by security systems that infringe on their privacy or impose burdens on their daily lives, but equally, they recognise that it is appropriate and important to be protected. Governments must find a way to strike this balance and a layered, covert, multi-sensor approach to threat detection poses a rational solution. By deploying sensor technology that detects weapons, public concern about living in a ‘Big- Brother’ society is mitigated, and they are taken out of a fortress-like environment without surrendering their safety.
What does the future look like?
Ultimately, today’s decision-makers are victims of what is at their disposal. The emergence of smart and innovative technological solutions will arm them with the tools they need to enhance and
modernise security systems to defend more effectively against today’s omnipresent threat. In order for this to happen there needs to be cross-industry collaboration and the widespread adoption of a multi-sensor approach.
Businesses who are engineering new technologies that push the boundaries of what has previously been possible must work with law enforcement and politicians to become part of the solution. The strategic application of expertise from companies like PatriotOnewill help shape the direction of public security by ensuring that the right tools are put in the hands of the decision makers.
Technology on its own can only go so far. As a stand-alone solution, it is not the silver bullet to solving the UK’s security problems. In order to be most effective, technology must be embedded
into national security policies and become an integral pillar of training programmes. Policy makers need to have a comprehensive understanding of how to best implement and integrate the
technology for it to be successful and effective. Collaboration and integration are key to creating a safer, better-protected country.
This is the future of UK security.
Martin Cronin, CEO of Patriot One.