I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate, and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.
As I reflect upon 2015, it feels that the world has become a more dangerous place than it was 12 months ago. Security is now a national preoccupation and it saddens me that rarely a day goes by when the need to better protect people, property and assets from a growing range of physical and technology based threats goes unmentioned in the media.
It was the year when our French neighbours witnessed two events that shocked the free world. In January, two Islamic terrorists forced their way into the offices of the satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and killed 11 people and injured 11 others. Then in November, over 130 people were killed in coordinated attacks, including 89 at the Bataclan theatre. The so-called Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility and the fact that all of the known attackers were EU citizens, who crossed borders without difficulty, highlighted the danger of homegrown terrorism.
In the UK, we know all to well the devastating impact that having such individuals walking amongst us can have, as the 7/7 bombings and murder of Lee Rigby demonstrated. That danger is never far away and in recent days it has also transpired that the Paris terror leader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had photos of Birmingham on his smartphone and was in contact with Moroccans living in the city.
The threat of physical harm has also shared column inches with the proliferation of cyber crime. Our desire to quickly adopt new Internet based technologies brings unanticipated risks and inadvertent consequences that can have negative impacts. During 2015 stories of cyber threats and major data breaches arising from hacker groups, criminal organisations and espionage units were in abundance.
This was exemplified in October when news emerged about a significant and sustained attack on TalkTalk. While the investigation is ongoing, it is reported that nearly 157,000 of its customers’ personal details were accessed and in excess of 15,600 bank account numbers and sort codes were stolen. TalkTalk was by no means alone though and organisations as diverse as Ashley Madison, Fiat Chrysler, Edinburgh Council and Bitdefender were all compromised. I can’t help thinking that this is just the thin end of the wedge and organisations and consumers alike must do more to protect data and treat an online security strategy as a ‘work in progress’ rather than a ‘fit and forget’.
Like most of the population, I had a keen interest in the 2015 general election and had an inkling that if the Conservatives won then we would see the return of the so called Snooper’s Charter or, to give it its correct title, the Investigatory Powers Bill. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, recently outlined her plans, which have been modified from the 2013 version that was defeated. The new Investigatory Powers Bill will not have some ‘contentious’ parts of the original plan but will still allow police and security services to track Internet and social media use, given them warranted powers for the bulk interception of data, and require communication firms to retain website addresses for a year.
Although the proposals have not proven popular with civil liberties groups, I’m firmly in favour of them. I think the public has nothing to worry about and should not be concerned about this legislation, as we need to do everything possible to prevent terrorist attacks.
Like a growing number of people the way that central government contracts are allocated, awarded and serviced gives me cause for concern. So, when Matt Hancock, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, announced plans get more SMEs working on central government contracts, my hopes were raised and then quickly dashed.
The reason for this is because the government defines a company as an SME if it meets two out of three criteria – it has a turnover of less than £25m, it has less than 250 employees and/or it has gross assets of less than £12.5m. Within the security sector there are a significant number of businesses with well over 250 employees – and that means that for many organisations in our industry, this announcement could actually make a bad situation worse.
Ultimately, the industry’s biggest players will continue to get the larger contracts and companies in the middle with, for example, 2,000 employees and the specialist resources available, will miss out at both ends of the spectrum. These ‘bigger than SME’ sized companies combine the ability to carry out large-scale assignments with the kind of attention to detail that smaller organisations often display. Until a more inclusive and wide-ranging procurement policy is put in place, it could well mean that history repeats itself and I believe it’s time to redefine what constitutes an SME in the security industry.
There’s clearly much to consider in 2016 and with security now pervading all aspects of our lives, even the festive season is not immune. One present that will be at the top of the bestseller charts are drones or more correctly UAV’s (an acronym for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and with more of them in the sky than ever, the problem of these devices being used where they shouldn’t be – either through accident or design – will, like the other issues outlined here, be a subject of much debate in the year ahead.