Is landside security safe enough?

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Recent attacks in Brussels and Shanghai have left many people with questions regarding the effectiveness of airport landside security. Passenger Terminal World speaks to futurist and cyber security expert Dr Simon Moores (left), director of Zentelligence, about the current and future threats to the landside area and what can be done to prevent them.

What do you see as being the main threats to landside security?

One of the growing threats to airports, both landside and airside, is from unmanned objects. We’ve seen recently at Dubai and Warsaw that both airports were brought to a grinding halt because of drones operating in the nearby area. These add nuisance value. However there is the potential to cause far more trouble with drones because of their ability to carry a payload, which is why authorities are examining ways of jamming them or bringing them down. It doesn’t take a large payload, just the size of a small camera for example, to cause significant disruption at an airport or a civic center, and that is the problem. You can be close or far away, and can even launch a drone on an autonomous flight path from a van sitting on the perimeter of the airport.

Cyber security is another potential problem, especially for airports that do not keep up-to-date with the latest policies in terms of software updates and patches. Patching is one of the most important processes because if you leave one part of the airport system unpatched then a malicious hacker, a teenager, a government state, could easily tunnel into the system and find devices that are hanging off that network. That could potentially be the air traffic control system, the baggage handling system or the scanning systems in the security area. As airports become more connected they become more vulnerable and it becomes equally important that patching precautions and policies are kept up to date because a simple slippage could open up the entire environment to compromise.

What measures do you think could be taken to improve security in these areas?

It’s a question of budgets and resources. Airports in the upper echelons of the market, such as London Heathrow and Frankfurt airports, can probably afford to employ the best people, the best precautions and the best solutions. But as you go further down the scale to the smaller regional airports, then it becomes more of a struggle to find the people, the solutions and the budget to achieve what you think is important in terms of your network or the physical side of your perimeter. So it’s an issue of investment, it’s an issue of imagination, and it’s an issue of employment.

In contrast, some airports from regions such as the Middle East or Asia, will buy an expensive solution and it will never actually leave the box. This is because they don’t have the people who can implement it properly. Therefore the joining up of finances and capabilities is vital, but the people who are capable of doing this are far and few between. In either case, it’s very difficult to stop someone who is determined to cause trouble in an airport environment because of its sheer size. There are always going to be chinks in the armor.

Do you agree with ACI that landside security is the responsibility of local authorities and not the airport? If so does this mean that airports and airlines should not take any action?

It’s a difficult question because I’m no authority in this area, but it seems to me that it’s rather like the overlapping responsibilities that we see between county councils and district councils in the UK, where you sometimes find disputes over who is responsible for a certain road or footpath and you end up with potholes. Essentially it’s a case of who holds the budget to fix the problem but in the case of airports, the moment you start discharging the responsibility between different groups then you open up the exposure of the environment to more risk, because in the end you have no one taking charge or assuming responsibility, and nobody is entirely sure who has responsibility.

Should we be following the example of certain Turkish, Russian and Israeli airports where passengers are screened before they even get to check in?

If we start implementing these measures then some people will probably give up traveling by air completely unless they really have to. The security processes implemented by the TSA and other agencies already make flying a very inconvenient experience for many people. If we start to implement processes that are similar to those of Israeli airline El Al then the whole process becomes incredibly painful. It’s already an intrusive process as it is and is on the verge of becoming a disincentive for traveling.

Right: Moores holds a full commercial pilot’s license and is one of the pilots flying banners over Westminster on June 23 for both sides of the Brexit argument

What should airport operators be investing in today to help improve security in these areas?

Again it comes down to a matter of budget. What can you afford to implement on the technology side,

and are you making sure that your policies are up-to-date and everybody is trained up to a certain standard?

We’re already starting to see the emergence and evolution of molecular/trace detection systems that are able to sniff out any substances that may pose a threat. The challenges there are the ability to tune out the false positives. But technologies can always be bypassed and systems are only as good as what they’re designed and tuned for. I may have my key ring taken away from me at security but a ceramic knife may go undetected. You will never fully limit the opportunities for someone with enough determination because once you have millions of people going through a public space then the probability will always exist that someone will get through.


Dr Simon Moores is a futurist and an information risk consultant. He is currently chair of the annual international eCrime Congress and is a visiting lecturer for the Applied Sciences & Computing Department at Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK. Moores has also contributed to The Guardian newspaper and acted as ‘Technology Ambassador’ for the British government under the leadership of former Prime Minster Tony Blair.

Interview by Dan Symonds

June 18, 2016

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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