London's two-day international Counter-Terror Expo (CTX) might not seem the obvious place to find a channel opportunity. Yet terrorism defence strategy and practice intersects not just with potentially lucrative public sector contracts, but with civilian interests as well.
Terror acts tend to specifically target public spaces, potentially disrupting or destroying businesses and individual lives, with data and information technologies key weapons in the counter-terror arsenal.
Amid the stands at CTX showcasing detection dog teams, inflatable barriers, armoured cars, electronic signal jammers, bomb disarmament robots, miniature drone aircraft and anti-anthrax kits, IT vendor spokespeople told CRN that many of their offerings are indeed produced with corporate security - as well as defence, intelligence and military - applications in mind.
Of course, technologies originally developed for military use often integrate with civilian applications over time - such as the internet.
David Thompson, event manager for CTX, which is in its sixth year, said: "We have put together a comprehensive show of immediate and practical relevance to every professional involved in the counter-terror and security arenas. The threat from extremist groups is not just ever-present, it is ever-evolving."
For the first time, the Ambition emergency services and Forensics Europe expos were colocated with CTX as well, displaying the latest technologies and techniques in those sectors.
Potential customer organisations include government, defence, police, emergency services, critical national infrastructure and security services, and the private sector on a global, national and local level, Thompson said.
One product CRN played with was the Enigma E2 cryptographic smartphone by Tripleton. Priced at £1,320, it accepts any standard SIM but has another SIM card to send authenticated and encrypted calls and e-SMS in real time to other Enigma phones, and the security is completely independent of the network. Billed as the world's most secure mobile phone, it can send ordinary GSM calls and includes standard phone features such as a camera, MP3 player, USB, Bluetooth and GPRS.
Another impressive offering with broad appeal was RFEL's Halo image processing technology for CCTV incorporating an algorithmic digital stabilisation module; the image is processed at source, giving exceptional clarity and stability of image, even if the hardware is being physically shaken about. "As far as we know, no one else has this," RFEL's spokeswoman said.
The different technological categories are increasingly converging, with this being the first year that CTX has presented an integrated security-in-action showcase, combining perimeter security with advanced video processing, content analysis, and control room technologies. Items on show this year were underpinned by and integrated with, more often than not, sophisticated data analytics.
Many products work to speed up processes and enable efficient data handling - potentially increasing productivity and saving time for cash-strapped public services.
Meanwhile, traditional IT partners such as NEC, Ricoh - and HP, whose government business cybersecurity lead Mike Loginov spoke about big data at the critical national infrastructure sessions - are intensifying their involvement in advanced security. NEC showed its NeoFace facial recognition software, as well as its biometrics, cybersecurity, infrastructure management and collaboration applications.
One theme at this year's show was cyber terror, showcased not just on the stands but in a full-day mini-conference.
Stewart Bertram, cyber capability manager at private sector risk analyst Control Risks, told delegates that while there is no proof cyber tactics have yet been used to actually perform terrorist acts, the threat is realistic - it is probable that it is actually going to happen.
"There's a danger of misunderstanding the threat. We see a disconnect between the actual threat and the perceived threat," he said.
"Yes, you can go online and see huge amounts of terrorists on social media - my own research looked at categorising terrorist use of social media in sub-Saharan Africa and there are hundreds of websites. What they're doing is radicalisation and [disseminating] inaccurate information."
The resources required mean that cyber terror per se remains big-league, nation-state-level stuff - perhaps like what happened with Stuxnet - but it is only a matter of time, Bertram reiterated.
"Cyber threat is of course a growing issue, I believe, mostly due to the West's increasing dependence upon ICT - as opposed to a radical increase in the capabilities of cyber threat actors," Bertram said. "Cyber is where counter-terrorism was post 9/11. I think this is very true; there is a danger we will make the same mistakes in cyber that were made within traditional CT post-9/11."
All organisations therefore should think about improving their cybersecurity for the future - suggesting a possible angle for channel security specialists. Bertram's views were echoed by other independent experts at the conference.
Jamie Shea, deputy assistant secretary general of the emerging security challenges division at NATO, said it was true that since 9/11, successful terrorist and jihadist attacks in Europe had become few and far between.
"But this is not because the threat has gone away; it is because in the developed world, we had some successes. Intelligence services, et cetera, have had some success in preventing attacks," Shea told delegates on day one during a global counter-terror keynote.
Jihadist ideology, for example, remains strong and seductive among many communities around the globe, and today while Al-Qaeda itself does not exist in the sense of a roughly centralised hostile force operating from Peshawar or thereabouts, there is a multiplicity of fragmented, diverse terrorist and extremist groups that are or have been inspired by Al-Qaeda's ideas and beliefs, he said.
"These groups are scattered across places including Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, right through to Afghanistan and the Indian sub-continent," Shea said. "Also, we're seeing a lot of copycat operations, such as the Westgate shopping centre attack [in Nairobi], which was quite clearly inspired by Mumbai."
While it is harder for such groups to organise, not least because of the vigilance of Western security organisations in recent years, it can also be more difficult to track and combat their activities, Shea suggested.
HP's Loginov said that its eight security operations centres around the globe pick up 23 billion events that could be potential cyber threat incidents that require further investigation every month. "And last year, we identified 3,400 actual vulnerabilities in fully patched systems," he said. "We think governments will be putting more money into big-data analytics in future."
More global collaboration and partnership between the private and public sector is needed to help prevent cyber attacks and terrorist acts generally, speakers agreed - especially in a world where government budgets have continued to shrink.
Hugh Boyes, cyber security lead at the Institution of Engineering and Technology and a specialist in smart buildings, confirmed: "We have already seen a rapid growth in cybercrime, as the criminal gangs have realised the rewards can be high and the penalties low compared with other
types of crime. The risk of being caught and successfully prosecuted remains relatively low."
Convergence and integration of IT with building systems, for example, has boosted the risk level that must be addressed, especially as the Internet of Things expands and develops.
"It may be quicker and easier for an attacker to make your building uninhabitable or unusable than for the attacker to try to disrupt your corporate IT systems," Boyes noted.
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