Terrorism trends explored at IFSEC

Always shocking yet sadly no longer surprising, recent tragic events in London have refocused attention on the changing nature of the terror threat. In light of recent events, IFSEC International investigates five alarming terror trends and what they mean for counter-terror strategies

For what they lack in resources compared to the states against which they pit themselves, terrorists must compensate with the element of surprise. The terrorist’s trump card is his unpredictability. Being unpredictable is all too easy when potential targets are almost limitless, given that Islamic extremists essentially view their host society as irredeemably sinful. Any target – any people, buildings or infrastructure – is fair game. Sacrificing themselves too, they’re not even constrained by the need for an escape route.

Here are five trends in terrorism that have become more apparent this year and the implications for counter terror approaches.

Environmental sabotage
Several Israeli politicians blamed a spate of wildfires in November on terrorism. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Defence Minister, said authorities had evidence that at least 17 of the 110 recorded outbreaks, which destroyed hundreds of homes and caused millions of dollars of damage, were attributable to arson. Whether it was politically motivated arson or not, the very mention of it in the media could alert terrorist movements elsewhere to the potential of environmental sabotage – not just through fires but by poisoning crops or reservoirs too.

Of course, terrorists tend to favour attacks on crowded places to maximise casualties and to create the highest psychological impact. However, train stations, shopping centres, sports stadia and so on tend to be well guarded and monitored by CCTV. Forests, rivers and agricultural holdings, on the other hand, might represent a soft underbelly.

It’s hardly practical to heavily guard every square mile of forest, farmland and waterway with security personnel or surveillance cameras. Complete security is never possible, but authorities will have to deploy innovative solutions, whether it’s physical barriers, drones or other hardware, that maximise security in a cost-effective way.

Far-right threat
Pointing to our Burkean preference for evolution over revolution, British thinkers have often considered their country to be better insulated against the extreme ideologies of both left and right that convulsed continental Europe through the 1930s and 1940s. However, a rise in hate crime in the wake of the Brexit vote, the triumph of Donald Trump in the US elections and the brutal murder of a sitting MP in the UK has generated anxiety that the threat from the Far Right is being underestimated.

Neil Basu, senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing and deputy assistant commissioner, said recently: “Over the past 12 months, there have been indications that the threat from [the] extreme right wing could be increasing and we are alive to this.”

Anti-radicalisation scheme Prevent reported a 73.5 per cent rise in the number of referrals linked to the far right in 2016. But, according to Basu, currently ‘just under 10 per cent of all Prevent referrals relate to the extreme right wing. The authorities have put programmes in place to support those at risk of being radicalised.

Jurors at the Old Bailey recently heard how Thomas Mair, who was sentenced to a whole-life term for the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, was an avid reader of Nazi propaganda, collector of Nazi memorabilia and a white supremacist. Was the murder committed by Mair, who was also inspired by David Copeland, who targeted, gay, Asian and black people with a succession of bombs in 1999, a harbinger of Far Right attacks to come?

Basu insisted that ‘the overriding threat remains from Daesh-inspired groups’, but the authorities may now have keep a more watchful eye on the activities of organisations like the National Front and the BNP.

Internet of things
No household or everyday object, however mundane, is safe from the digital revolution. Whether most people truly want a smart toaster, smart clothing or a smart toothbrush remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the number of ‘things’ being connected to computer networks is growing exponentially. And this applies just as much to commercial and public buildings as well as the wider urban environment. From trains to shopping centres, data is being generated in ever greater volumes with huge potential for generating energy savings, easing congestion and generally making cities more efficient and our lives easier.

It’s also multiplying the vectors of attack for cyber terrorists – and we’re ill prepared for it, according to Advent IM founder Mike Gillespie.

He said: “We’re patching IT systems on a weekly basis for Windows-based vulnerabilities. We’re seeing firmware vulnerabilities discovered on a daily if not hourly basis. We’re trying to plug holes because the planning wasn’t in place for the new cyber landscape that we’ve entered. And with the internet of things, the pace of change is getting faster and faster.

“We’re seeing attacks on physical buildings, on CCTV systems, on air conditioning systems, vehicles, tram systems, train systems are all coming under attack. And sometimes for direct malicious intent with a view to causing accidents, damage, bringing down national infrastructure. If it’s a weak system, a legacy system, poorly installed and poorly patched, it then allows a foothold to be gained. It’s a bit like when you’re breaching a port: you need that initial bridgehead. You build, consolidate, then push on to attack elsewhere in a network.”

Vehicular attack
Recent devastating attacks in Nice, Berlin and now London have demonstrated brutally that vehicles can be every bit as destructive as bullets and bombs. Security guards can do little in the face of a several-tonne truck mowing down people at speed, so this recent trend has highlighted the need for more hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) measures in public spaces. In one sense, the use of cruder tactics is a testament to the success of security services in foiling terror plots.

In an article published in the wake of the Westminster attack, Dominic Casciani, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent, said: “The days when terrorism meant large, complex bombs and months of planning are gone: Western security agencies – particularly MI5 and its partner agencies – are very, very good at identifying those plots and disrupting them. The longer it takes to plan such an attack, the more people who are involved, the more chances there will be for security services to learn what is going on.”

Looked at another way, the deployment of simpler, yet still devastating methods is also a depressing reminder that when your enemy has no qualms about killing innocent civilians, or about dying themselves, counter-terror responses must often be reactive rather than proactive.

Lone-wolf attacks
Committed by actors without material support or communication with a terror group, so-called lone wolf attacks are nothing new. However, a spate of attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, the UK and the US has highlighted the impotence of intelligence services when the attackers leave little or no evidence of their intentions. And if someone has no connections to radicals who are known to the authorities, then it’s extremely difficult – nigh on impossible, even – for authorities to anticipate anything they are planning.

With Al Qaeda plots, the intelligence services could at least intercept communications and identify links between central command – insofar as such a diffuse network even had a central command – and various terror cells. If Al Qaeda operated a franchise model then the attacks on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, the murder of two police officials in Magnanville, the Nice lorry massacre and the recent murder of a French priest were simply homages to the ideology of ISIS. Recognising how effective such attacks are in instilling fear and evading detection, ISIS has stoked the phenomenon, encouraging sympathisers within Europe to become self-starter terrorists – no contact with, nor direction from, ISIS HQ required.

The security implications
With the estimated annual growth rate of the global physical security market projected at 9.98 per cent each year by 2020, the budget allocation for procuring and upgrading security systems is bigger than ever. Coupled with the growing incidence of terror attacks, governments have increased budget allocation for physical security systems and solutions in order to protect people, assets and data. In response to this, IFSEC International has launched a new show, Borders & Infrastructure Expo, taking place between 20-22 June 2017, at ExCeL London.

Borders & Infrastructure Expo, running alongside IFSEC International, will focus on products, solutions and education for border control, critical national infrastructure, law enforcement, transport and the protection of key strategic assets. This high-level launch event will bring together big-budget buyers, policymakers and influencers from the UK and around the world and cover a wide range of technologies in physical and perimeter security, border control, transport security, cyber security and much more.

Visitors to this free-to-attend event can also see drones/UAVs in action in the Drone Zone. Featuring both drone and anti-drone technology, the Drone Zone offers advice and insights about enhancing your security operation with the latest cutting-edge innovations in the field.

Experienced LPCB technicians will carry out attack testing in the LPCB Attack Testing Zone. Taking place twice daily within the dedicated LPCB/ BRE Global area in the IFSEC Borders & Infrastructure Expo, the tests will show you how products withstand direct physical assault from a range of tools and devices commonly used in attempted break-ins and intrusions.

Richard Flint, Physical Security Certification Scheme Manager at the Building Research Establishment (BRE), says: ‘’We’re very pleased to be able to demonstrate live attack testing at Borders & Infrastructure Expo at IFSEC 2017. The ability to show live attack scenarios on a range of LPS1175 products is beneficial for the visiting audience as it will reveal how highly engineered these products are and how they’ve attained the relevant approvals to existing standards.’’

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