International cybercrime expert and United Nations advisor Dr. Jim Kent has warned airports around the world are ‘extremely vulnerable’ to infiltration by terrorists wanting to launch catastrophic attacks from within.
Dr Kent, the Global Head of Security and Intelligence with Australian technology and data investigation company Nuix , says there is a real risk of terrorist groups targeting airports, penetrating their systems and technology to recruit, extort and potentially launch devastating attacks.
Dr Kent’s says the revelation in 2012 that an entrenched network of corrupt customs officials had been operating out of Sydney Airport, and the exposure this year that a network of Australian border security officials had allegedly been working for organised criminals, as well as last week’s major security breach at Melbourne airport only confirms his assessment that terrorist groups could infiltrate airports and other Australian businesses in similar ways.
In his advisory role, Dr Kent has worked with international intelligence agencies on a number occasions to investigate cases where companies have been infiltrated by groups such as radicalised jihadists.
Dr Kent is in Australia this week to advise intelligence and corporate leaders about these type of specific terrorist threats to Australian and multi-national organisations.
“We have clear evidence that radicalised jihadist groups are infiltrating mutli-billion dollar global companies to covertly use their structures and technologies to prepare for attacks,” said Dr Kent.
“Big businesses like airlines, airports and mining companies, have highly valuable networks, technologies and infrastructure which are very appealing to terror cells.
“While the threat to companies is very real, most would have absolutely no idea they have been infected by organised crime or terrorist groups to use them as a host.”
While specifics around infiltration investigations remain confidential, Dr Kent says he has uncovered terrorist groups operating covertly within global companies for long periods of time without attracting attention.
Dr. Kent says many Australian businesses are unaware that terrorist and organised crime cells employ tactics where they infiltrate and weaponise internal infrastructures to mask and execute their operations.
“Australian companies are vulnerable to terrorist groups using them as hosts if they don’t closely monitor individual behaviours across their organisation in a holistic way,” Dr Kent said.
While all industries are at risk, Dr Kent has warned that businesses specifically operating in the aviation, transport, finance and resource sectors need to be extra vigilant, ensuring they have effective cybersecurity strategies in place to prevent infiltration by terrorist groups and crime syndicates.
“Large organisations often operate in silos, which creates a false perception of security,” Dr Kent said.
“In my view, airports are still extremely vulnerable to infiltration and attack by terrorist groups because critical monitoring of unusual activity and enforcement of security measures is rarely joined up.
“In my assessment, terrorist groups could still work their way into an airport like a virus, for example by covertly infiltrating baggage handlers, immigration staff, freight drivers, pilots and cabin crew.
“Organisations really need to scrutinise their internal structures and systems to uncover avenues virus groups may attempt to exploit.
“Whether its logistics to track where assets are moved, finance to monitor cash flows or human resources to see patterns in positions filled – these are all elements that come together to tell a story of how organisations can be infiltrated and used in different ways.”
In raising awareness of the terrorist and organised crime risks, Dr Kent is urging organisations to be more transparent and collaborative with one another around data breaches.
Dr Kent is calling on organisations to adopt a holistic view of cybersecurity; focusing on technology that not only defends against external threats, but also monitors and alerts businesses of trends, behaviours and keywords to protect themselves from internal threats.