The past few years have been marred by terror, with several European cities having suffered catastrophic attacks that have sparked desolation, panic and an outcry for solutions to address the rising threat levels. Yet, while the digital evolution of the world opens us up to new vulnerabilities, it also gives us more capacity to anticipate and prevent threats before they occur. Developing technologies that can help to detect and respond to threats to public security is a key subject area that we have been focusing on at the Atos Technology Days 2017, and here, I explore some of the core themes.
Where are these threats coming from?
While cyber-attacks have become more sophisticated in recent years, we’ve seen a shift in approach for physical attacks – from highly organised terror cells to lone wolves, who are increasingly using guns or vehicles as weapons to cause as much destruction as possible. These attacks, carried out by individuals or very small groups of people, are much harder for the authorities to control. They require less communication with a leader who is giving instruction to organize and are therefore more difficult to track. While once, intelligence agencies could track a string of communications to unearth a terror cell, governments must today look at new methods to identify these individual attackers before they strike.
How to tackle and prevent these threats
So how can the industry address this disparate network of individuals looking to cause harm? One way to tackle this is by using sensors to capture information, and more investment is needed to develop expertise and capacity within intelligence agencies to manage and interpret this data. These agencies must also address the issue of encryption – WhatsApp was accused of giving terrorists ‘a place to hide’ after the messaging service – owned by Facebook – refused to hand over messages, following the Westminster terror attack in the UK in May this year. Governments are calling for this end-to-end encryption to be lifted and organizations need to find ways to deliver solutions to manage this process.
While the intelligence community’s use of data as a preventative tactic is nothing new, the shift in the analysis of this data is helping to combat this new terror approach. Rather than working on structured data, the focus should be on unstructured data that can expose anomalies, or small changes in patterns; which in turn, can alert agencies of an impending attack. The challenge now is to cross reference all the unstructured information as early as possible in the process with improved tools to interpret and manage the ever-increasing volumes of data.
Next steps in front line defense
While the security sector has traditionally been seen as relatively conservative, we must start injecting some of the work being done in the private sector into the industry if we’re to tackle these threads head on. There is a common misconception in the military and intelligence services that specific tools are required, yet civilian software can be just as effective. For instance, the same technology used to track purchasing patterns in retail could be used to track individuals’ behaviour online by intelligence agencies.
Policies are evolving, and while military response used to revolve around having as much equipment, tanks and artillery on the ground as possible, the focus today is on getting access to the right digital information at the right time. The skills and technology to do this are already available and the focus now must be on finding the tools and processes to convert them for use in this industry. This is starting to happen and IT players have a critical role to play in this sector if we’re to further build our defense against terror.
Atos Technology Days 2017 : Watch Cyril Dujardin’s video
At Atos Technology Days 2017, we have showcased the latest in defense innovation. If you’d like to find out more about the event, please visit Atos Technology Days