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July 22, 2021

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Post-COVID drone activity urges need for smart airspace security programmes

Amit Samani, Dedrone, explores why the UK is leading the global conversation on counter-drone technology, as more devices take to the skies and expose blind spots in airspace security programmes.

Amit Samani was recently named in our IFSEC Global Top Influencers in Security & Fire 2021 – check out the full list, here!

The drone industry is experiencing a boom post-COVID, accelerated by their use cases during the pandemic to help support last-mile delivery, social distancing, infrastructure inspection, and surveillance. Drones are getting cheaper, faster, and able to carry bigger payloads. At the same time, government agencies are considering and passing laws that enable broader drone usage in more aspects of our lives.

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The consequence? More and more drones in our sky. More productive drones, but also more disruptive drones – whether intentionally or unintentionally nefarious. Airspace security is the concern of prisons, military installations, airports, stadiums, critical infrastructure sites – who also purchase drones for security and surveillance and need to keep the bad drones away to prevent operational disruption. Demand for complete airspace security is increasing worldwide to ensure every drone is accounted for. 

The challenge of unwanted drones in urban areas and critical infrastructure sites is complex and unique and will continually evolve as more drones come to market and as drone regulations advance. Over the past two years, more airspace interruptions caused by wayward or maliciously flown drones have prompted regulators to accelerate their review of drone use policies.

Today, security providers are proactively researching, acquiring, and installing airspace security technology to extend their perimeter security systems into the airspace. However, there is still a general lack of guidance from the highest levels of government on how to test and standardise airspace security technology. A key exception is in the UK, where the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) has activated in creating standards for testing and evaluation counter-drone technology. As more drones are widely adopted, governments respond in kind to create airspace security standards and drone traffic control systems that are accessible, easy to use, and differentiate between cooperative and non-cooperative drone usage.

UK leading the way in counter-drone tech discussion

In the UK, the Government has taken clear action to provide guidance for critical infrastructure facilities to assess and procure airspace security technology. The drone-based Gatwick Airport shutdown in December 2018 prompted UK regulators to rapidly adopt standards for counter-drone technology at airports and critical infrastructure sites. The CPNI is the first government authority to assess counter-drone technology, making their results available to organizations protecting critical infrastructure and needing to procure airspace security technology with the assurance that it has been tested rigorously. CPNI has continuously evaluated airspace security technology to detect drones within a specific launch time, ensure consistent and reliable tracking, timely alerts, and notifications, and showing reliable information on drone heights, speeds, and ranges.

Outside of the UK, government testing of airspace security technology is in place, but has not been formalised in the same way that CPNI has achieved.  Perhaps because there has not yet been a “Gatwick-level” incident in the US or other countries – there hasn’t been the same level of urgency and motivation to create standards for acquiring and implementing counter-drone technology.

However, these incidents are inevitable – and as more drone incidents occur that threaten perimeter, ground, and cyber security, the highest levels of government will soon be forced to respond and provide guidance for their state or country organisations to protect themselves.

CPNI has set the standard for global counter-drone technology testing. Any organisation protecting against drone threats can take comfort in knowing that CPNI continues to evaluate, test, and report on which drone detection technologies are reliable and deliver results.

Exposing your drone blind spots

Smart airspace security in cities is becoming more of a reality as more private security providers integrate drone detection technology and reveal the true nature of drone traffic. The drone security issues are complex – just like the physical security world, where there is a merging of physical and cyber security – in the same way drones will span both sides of the security coin.

Security providers at airports, critical infrastructure sites, military installations, stadiums, and prisons must remain vigilant of their airspace activity and the disruptive nature of drones. For example, the potential risk of a wayward drone at an airport is high – a drone will cause operational delays, shutdowns, and near-miss collisions.

As security teams look to expand their surveillance and detection systems to the airspace, they can no longer simply “check the box” with a single-drone manufacturer detection system, but rather look at the diversity of drones in the area and expand their detection systems to achieve true airspace security. If you are only detecting a single drone type – you do very little to shed light on your overall drone blind spots, and only make those blind spots bigger and darker.

To help with drone blind spots, government regulators are helping develop and launch unmanned traffic management programs. Programmes such as Remote ID are slowly rolling out across the US, EU, and UK, helping security managers observe in real-time where a cooperative drone is flying in their airspace. However, the risk remains in those drones that do not register or avoid registration to fly for malicious purposes. Airspace security technology must be able to integrate information about registered, cooperative drone activity to differentiate immediately which drone is a friend and which is a foe, regardless of their status or manufacturer.

Cities today and of the future creating complete airspace security

Smart airspace security combines sensors, AI/machine-learning software, and data analytics to detect, classify, locate, and when authorised, mitigate unwanted drones. However, as more drones enter the market and new laws and regulations are enforced, airspace security programmes must continually advance to meet new threats. More drone manufacturers have come to market in the past months/years and expanded their operations, and the overall drone market share across the globe continues to fragment. Security providers must consider the myriad of drones available on the market to protect their airspace.

The consequences of drone incursions can be costly, from operational downtime to physical property damage and even data breaches. Cities today, such as Berlin, Germany, deploy airspace security technology to detect and observe their drone activity. Cities of the future will require complete airspace awareness on their drone activity. COVID-19 related shutdowns accelerated use-cases for drones, such as last-mile delivery of medical supplies, and socially distanced security and surveillance. With more drones in the skies, come more exposed vulnerabilities.

Laws for unauthorised drone flights at critical infrastructure, including airports, are growing around the world as well – with stiffer penalties. An essential detection requirement must include data logging for forensic evidence to be used by law enforcement, and in the event of damage, for insurance or legal prosecution.

Forward-thinking security teams have begun to take a proactive approach to understand how many drones are in their airspace and how to prevent harm from an unwanted drone to people, property, and information. Ultimately, the only drone that matters is the one that a security team does not want in their airspace.  Security providers can start protecting their airspace today by assessing the true nature of drone activity over their operations. With early detection and in-depth data, security teams can protect operational continuity, prevent losses, and maintain control of their airspace.

 

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