Examining Today’s Threat Vectors to Address Tomorrow’s Security Threats
By David Cohen, security and intelligence expert, former CIA and NYPD, advisor to Evolv Technology
One quick scan of violent public attacks in the headlines in recent years will convince even the most casual observer that society needs an improved approach to security. Lone gunman kills 58 and wounds more than 500 in Las Vegas. Former student kills 14 students and three staff members at Parkland, Fla., high school. Coordinated terrorist attacks murder 130 in Paris. Three drivers ram pedestrians on London Bridge, killing 8 and injuring 48.
Each incident is alarming and horrific in its own right. When we take a step back, what is also alarming is that these attacks vary in style, type of target and choice of weapon. Adversaries are getting more innovative, less predictable and, thus, more dangerous – underscoring society’s need to stay one step ahead of them.
Identifying the five threat vectors
One critical aspect of combatting adversaries is more clearly defining their motivations. Motivation can range from an ideologically driven, well-planned attack to a targeted release of emotional rage. With this range of motivations in mind, we identified the five threat vectors that incorporate the range of motivations that would produce violence against soft targets:
- Terrorism: Homegrown or instigated from abroad, driven by ideological, religious or political perspectives. Think Paris shootings, London car attacks.
- Active shooter: Irrational decision to kill or injure as many people as possible. Think Las Vegas shootings.
- Workplace (or institutional) violence: Retribution for perceived harm to the perpetrator. Think Florida school shooting.
- Gang-related: Result of planned or spontaneous conflagration.
- One-on-one, spontaneous event: Spontaneous explosion of emotion – rage – by weaponed person.
By incorporating these motivations into a threat assessment, risk managers and security professionals can better recognize adversaries’ strategies and design security plans with a multi-layered security approach that deploys tools that cover the five threat vectors.
Adversaries are innovating…
A major change visible in today’s adversaries is the number and nature of individuals carrying out mass casualty/violent events. Terrorists are no longer trained just at specialized training camps and directed from central locations. Today, the free flow of information and communication across internet and social channels makes it substantially easier for individuals to radicalize, organize and procure weapons.
Perpetrators of mass violence are also able to build improvised explosive devices that contain no metallic content and create easily constructed homemade devices. Newer non-metallic weapons, such as 3D printed guns, pose yet another new threat that traditional security technology cannot detect – which points to the fact that perpetrators of mass murder are much more knowledgeable about the types of countermeasures defenders are deploying.
… So we, too, must innovate
To combat adversaries’ tactics, defenders need to create more versatile and aggressive security plans. Plans need to include intelligence, physical security infrastructure, weapons detection technologies and trained guards or law enforcement professionals. These components form a comprehensive counter violence plan based on both a threat assessment and a vulnerability assessment.
The elements of a new, more innovative approach to security can be found in a “risk-based security” (RBS) methodology. The RBS methodology – the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach – promotes flexibility and adaptability. This approach helps security leaders evaluate different threats based on a variety of risk factors, plan for the threats and continually revise them as new information becomes available.
Incorporating the right technology
A successful new approach to security must also include a strong focus on weapons detection. Plans should include the ability to detect person-borne weapons including firearms, explosives and other threats. New detection technologies with multiple types of sensors are capable of detecting non-metallic threats as well as more traditional metallic weapons. Ultimately, the weapons detection technologies must be able to change over time with new sensors and improved algorithms.
Security also needs to identify known individuals who may do harm to people or facilities. These may be individuals on a BOLO (be on the lookout) list, former disgruntled employees, individuals previously removed from the premises, or others known to cause trouble. Facial recognition technology can be used to identify these individuals as they enter a facility and provide an alert to the guards or the security operations center. Moving intelligence to the front line is a key enabler to address evolving threats.
The steady flow of horrifying events in newspaper headlines hammers home the point that security threats are not going away nor are they any more predictable over time. Different situations will require different tactics, and tomorrow’s evolving threats will push defenders to exercise new levels of innovation to fend off increasingly dangerous attacks – and the only way to combat the threats is to adopt a new, more holistic approach to security.
Read more here about risk-based security.
About the author
David Cohen is one of the world’s leading authorities on intelligence analysis and operations, with expertise developed over a nearly five-decade career with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as well as with the world’s largest metropolitan law enforcement organization, the City of New York Police Department (NYPD). He served for 12 years as the NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, a position established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He revolutionized the way the NYPD collected, analyzed and used intelligence, and leveraged traditional intelligence methods and relationships abroad to successfully protect New York City from another terrorist attack.