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June 13, 2022

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Airspace security

Airspace security takes the stage at IFSEC 2022

Having exhibited at IFSEC International 2022 in May at London’s ExCeL, Mark Jones, Head of Dedrone UK, outlines the takeaways for the counter-drone technology vendor from the discussions the team had with attendees. Mark explains why airspace security is now on the agenda more so than ever before, and why there is a requirement for a comprehensive drone legal framework.

The Ukraine War has shone a spotlight on the need for tighter airspace security for governments and critical infrastructure, but the rising drone economy is also making it mission critical for corporations, event venues and local government and law enforcement.

IFSEC International 2022 took place in May at London’s ExCeL

Drones — and the threat posed by their malicious usage — were front-and-center at this year’s IFSEC International event, which took place at London’s ExCeL between 17-19 May. Dedrone walked the floors to discover the industry’s most pressing concerns and hopes for the future. Here’s what we learned.

Counter-drone technology and threat intelligence converges

Airspace security used to be something only governments thought about, and it is high on many security plans. Think NORAD: the US-Canadian organisation that coordinates air defence and policing. NORAD-style coordination, planning, and concerns are now the norm for companies, correctional facilities, critical infrastructure, law enforcement and more.

The proliferation of drones — and their subsequent adoption by criminal and terrorist elements — caused this shift in thinking. Counter-drone technology was at the forefront of IFSEC 2022, with attendees from private and public sector organisations expressing profound concerns about the threat posed by malicious drone usage.

I was surprised — and pleased — to see such a high level of understanding among attendees. Those I spoke to understood that drones aren’t inherently innocuous but have concrete malicious applications. They understood how drones could circumvent the most well-intentioned and sophisticated security measures by simply flying over them.

Based on my discussions, it seems likely that counter-drone technology is becoming tightly interwoven into existing threat-intelligence platforms and ecosystems. Threat intelligence platforms allow organisations to understand the security challenges they face, helping them prepare for the worst and understand the potential weaknesses in their defenses.

As drones emerge as an attack vector across both physical and cyber security, organisations will continue to deepen their understanding of the threat posed. Knowledge is the first (and therefore most fundamental) prerequisite for an effective defensive posture.

Governments invest in counter-drone measures

Government organisations were highly represented at IFSEC this year. From this, we have inferred two fundamental shifts.

First, as the world emerges from the turbulent early years of the pandemic, public sector organisations are prepared to invest in new technologies and tools. Most importantly: every level of government is aware of the risk posed by malicious drone usage.

Second, and in many respects, the writing was already on the wall. We have already seen the early buds of government intervention in the drone space: from the UK CAA’s mandatory drone licensing to the FAA’s accelerating effort to develop counter-drone standards and certifications to protect airports.

It was gratifying to see wider acceptance and understanding of the counter-drone industry, and we expect to see more comprehensive government investment in the coming years. This will be a win-win for both sides. Public sector bodies will gain a crucial tool to protect sensitive airspace, and the industry will be able to expand and develop more sophisticated counter-drone technologies.

Drone detection becomes integral to urban policing

Until recently, the primary public-sector applications for counter-drone technologies were in critical national infrastructure organisations, airports and warfare. This is likely to change, particularly as the ‘Smart City’ concept takes hold, with drones (and counter-drone technologies) increasingly used in urban applications in everything from delivery services to policing.

Drones in policing offer municipalities the chance to achieve real, meaningful savings, offer greater protections to their officers and operate more efficiently. Additionally, it opens the possibility for drones to play a wider, persistent role in the fight against crime.

We are seeing more options for mobile airspace security, allowing law enforcement and government officials to provide temporary counter-drone capabilities for events, large gatherings, parades and more. This level of highly-agile, adaptive and temporary monitoring will be a boon for those areas where airspace restrictions are fluid.

At the same time, criminal elements will adopt drones for nefarious purposes, forcing municipalities and law enforcement agencies to adopt counter-drone measures. Existing technologies, like friend-or-foe detection, will be used to identify malicious drone usage without impinging on legitimate drone usage.

Dedrone-CitiesDrone-21

From my conversations with local government representatives at IFSEC, it is clear that municipalities are not at all anti-drone. They recognise the potential for drones in areas like logistics, travel, and security. But they acknowledge that drone activity — just like conventional aviation activity — must be regulated.

The need for a comprehensive drone legal framework

It took several years for lawmakers to notice the rising adoption of drones and the threat posed by malicious drone usage. The majority of industrialised nations have laws governing the registration and operation of drones, but none of them have come close to developing a comprehensive drone policy.

This reality poses a dilemma for the counter-drone industry. While companies, infrastructure providers, and public sector bodies can readily access drone detection technologies, they are limited in their ability to respond to incursions.

Put simply: They can identify a suspected drone incursion, but they can’t do anything about it.

The biggest driver is legislation keeping up with the technology. The counter-drone industry is eager for a change in legislation that would allow for the deployment of proactive countermeasures in a broader array of settings — not just airports and secure sites or critical national infrastructure.

Of the industry representatives we met at IFSEC, all were eager to work with lawmakers to provide a comprehensive counter-drone framework and recognise the importance of education and lobbying.

The post-pandemic road

Future COVID variants, inflation, and geopolitical turmoil pose challenges for all industries. The counter-drone sector is no exception, not to mention the more expansive security space.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Legislation changes, government investment, and the introduction of networked ‘smart cities’ offer serious opportunities for growth and development. The industry is ready to address them.

 

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