Today the job of a physical security integrator is more challenging than at any time over the last decade. “Convergence” of IT infrastructure and physical security solutions is complete. Not only is an IT decision maker or influencer directly involved, but cybersecurity is now a requirement for devices connected to the network. These two issues have introduced a new level of competition in the form of IT integrators with network expertise and cyber firms upselling their enterprise accounts to leverage the opportunity for device management and security. Physical security integrators need a competitive advantage.
Enter the drone. Today, off the shelf commercial drone technology is posing a significant threat to governments, corporations and the public. While the positive use cases for deploying commercial drones are many, like all technologies, drones have a dark side that security professionals must prepare for. If history is any judge, the trend toward using drones for clandestine surveillance, espionage and armed attacks has already been proven. Human nature being what it is, as commercial and recreational drone sales accelerate, it is only sensible to expect that history will repeat itself. When the inevitable happens, government agencies and commercial businesses will turn to the physical security integrators for solutions, not the IT staff and their integrator partners. Will you be ready for an opportunity that is squarely in the sweet spot of physical security professionals to address?
FBI Director Chris Wray testified before a Senate committee that drones are an increasing threat in the United States. “Two years ago this was not a problem,” he told the committee. “A year ago it was an emerging problem. Now it’s a real problem. So we’re quickly trying to up our game.”
There are numerous nefarious use case scenarios where airspace security is a key requirement, ranging from countering drones that intercept a company’s Wi-Fi communications to protecting critical infrastructures. Many of these customers already deploy a range of physical security solutions.
1. Sport Venues (Public gatherings)
We can all imagine the horrific scenario of an attack on a crowd and/or event during a “live” national broadcast, and the immediate social media frenzy to follow. However, there are other less obvious scenarios to consider.
Division 1 college football programs earn tens of millions of dollars annually. The difference a single game loss can have on a major bowl invitation is a reality. Emotions run high in state and conference rivalries. While we understand the importance of game day security to prevent an unwanted drone landing on the field or in the parking lot, what about the security of the airspace over the practice field the week leading up to the game? That video footage would be the difference in the game’s outcome. A drone landing on an adjacent rooftop and returning under the cover of darkness would be a simple operation. Selling the footage to a big money alumni group or coach is all it would take to change the course of the season. Motivations will vary but the ability to execute the espionage is now at hand.
2. Prisons & Correctional Facilities
These are perfect targets for drone deliveries of contraband and weapons. COVID-19 shut down visitations to these facilities and may have accelerated this practice. What happens when the threat flies directly overhead of the guard force, surveillance cameras, access control systems and the physical barriers the integrator has deployed? Nothing good. The other issue in this scenario is prison staff security. Weapons being dropped into a prison yard are obvious, but what about the disruption in daily routine the inmates are accustomed to? Being evacuated (repeatedly) from their outdoor activities might tend to upset the inmates. Prison union officials may take notice and demand counterdrone airspace security systems during negotiations.
3. Airports & Critical Infrastructure
Major airports are obvious targets for both the clueless recreational drone user and the serious criminal or terrorist. As for the amateur, you can’t fix stupid: “I didn’t know you can’t fly a drone by an active runway?” For the professional, airplanes have been high value targets for more than 50 years. In 2018, Gatwick Airport in London was shut down during the Christmas holiday for two full days costing over $65 million dollars in lost revenues. The perpetrators were never caught.
As for critical infrastructure, one only has to look at recent news stories of winter blackouts in Texas and the Colonial Pipeline hack to realize how fragile the nation’s power grids and energy delivery systems truly are. A coordinated attack by a dedicated group using drone technology (individual, several or a swarm) would be a disaster. The group orchestrating an attack would get global visibly. A secondary advantage is the improved chance of success via a remote attack without the traditional suicide mission.
John Chambers, former chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems, is arguably one of the best American business leaders of the past 50 years. Cisco networked the world and changed the way people live, work and play. He credits his (and Cisco’s) success to recognizing emerging market transitions earlier than competitors and executing a plan. Today, he runs JCV (John Chambers Ventures) and is an investor and advisor for Dedrone, a leader in global airspace security installations.
This threat is real and the time to address it is now. This is a risk area tailor-made for security professionals to differentiate competitively and play to their strengths. Given Chambers’ track record, I would suggest that physical security integrators “look up” and embrace the airspace security market transition now.