Another testing year for security agencies
2018 was a year of flashpoints, geopolitical manoeuvring and ongoing news coverage about forthcoming cyber Armageddon. Whilst terrorist threat levels remain high in Europe, instability persists in the Middle East and US foreign policy has become a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”, legislation related to cyber security and technological innovation provides some assurance that governments and businesses can keep people and assets safe.
Conflict and counterinsurgency in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan continued to force large number of migrants to seek safety in neighbouring countries and some seek asylum in the West. Protectionism and anti-immigration sentiment in Europe and the US led to the hardening of borders, notably Italy’s decision to close its ports after accepting high numbers of asylum seekers in previous years. The US southern border continues to be a political battleground in the US, with President Trump focused on securing the funds to build the wall.
Trade is becoming an increasingly contentious issue
Tensions have risen between the US and China as the former seeks to level the playing field to address its large trade deficit. Tariffs to a range of Chinese products was met with retaliation by China and although both Presidents agreed to defer any further tariffs at the G12 conference in Argentina, the issue is likely to continue during Trump’s administration. Russia continues to test the strength of the relationships between NATO and EU members. Aggression in Ukraine, poisoning in the UK, misinformation and disinformation to influence voting and impact political structures are just a few of 2018’s activities.
The threat from terrorism remains high in the UK and France, with the latter subject to attacks in Strasbourg and Trebes. However, security concerns are mounting across Europe. Germany in particular has experienced several terrorist events including attacks on migrants by far right supporters. This led to governments increasing budgets and amending counter-terrorism legislation to provide agencies with additional powers. Policy in Australia, forcing tech companies to use backdoors so that government agencies can access social network data of terror suspects, is significant and one to follow in relation to ongoing discussions about the erosion of privacy. Finally, the disruption in France caused by the Gilets jaunes provides an insight into a further social media challenge for governments – the mass coordination of a leaderless groups is not easy to negotiate with.
From an economic and financial perspective, cyber is the largest threat governments and businesses face today
2018 included some of the largest cyber breaches to date, including Facebook and Uber, undermining confidence that social networking and tech organisations can protect data. GDPR was launched in Europe in 2018 with the aim of addressing private sector reluctance to share details of breaches and to be more accountable. Attacks on critical infrastructure were fairly widespread with disruption to transportation systems. The cyber issue wasn’t only about attacks, but also how criminal groups communicate and launder money, and how state sponsored organisations spread misinformation. Understanding what the truth is today is an increasingly difficult challenge.
The end of the year delivered an example of how government and services providers are still reactive to security threats.
Unmanned systems have long posed a threat to airspace and discussion about how to regulate airspace, detect threats and protect it have been long and protracted. It is not an easy issue to resolve but it comes as no surprise that it took two days of disruption to flights by a rogue drone operator before Gatwick Airport decided to invest in technology to avert future incursions into their airspace and has been followed by a government review.
In 2019 we expect some of these trends to strengthen, some will fade and new ones will emerge. WA’s recently released State of Security provides a thorough analysis of how these trends will evolve over the next five years.
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