Countering evolving threats with evolved technology


Much like ordinary citizens, businesses and government, criminals are also increasingly making use of modern technology. This is leading to a complex contrast between the use of advancing technology for terror, and applying technology to detect and protect against the use of such technology for malicious intent.

This was one of the key topics addressed at the 2021 Sovereign Security Conference which took place on 19 August in Pretoria and was live streamed to hundreds of delegates both locally and globally.

Event sponsor Hensoldt South Africa unpacked some key technologies used by terror-parties and countering the threat with the same and other technologies.

With the advent of COVID-19 and a drastic move to working from home both locally and globally, cyber security has become all the more relevant and was a focus area in these discussions. “Cyber attackers see the pandemic as opportunity to step up their criminal activities by capitalising on the attention that is paid to coronavirus-related news,” said Hennie Venter, Chief Executive of Hensoldt South Africa’s GEW business unit. Venter was one of the keynote speakers at the conference, specifically addressing the technologies being applied for both evolving terror and the evolved security mechanisms to counter them.

Addressing cyber targets and cases closer to home and the reality of infrastructure attacks, Venter cited 22 July 2021 as an example, when Transnet and specifically port terminals were forced to close.

“This was the first of this type of attacks on infrastructure in South Africa that was documented in the media. The full after-effect of the situation is still in motion and the total cost of the shutdown not yet available. This has had a major effect on the economy and took place at the same time as the unrests in KZN and Gauteng, worsening the overall impact,” he said.

Speaking about modern technology and the ability to communicate rapidly and effectively, Venter discussed the power of social media and applications such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, in particular related to the community unrest that took place in July.

“For us as providers of intelligence, processing these different sources of data can harness a lot of information allowing deep analysis and also predicting specific actions/reactions before they actually happen. Using media mining tools and automated processes that include artificial intelligence, we can foster great value from these online platforms. Connect this also to the radio and media and you have a wealth of data and analytical information,” Venter said, a capability and trend also outlined at the conference by Mark Pfeiffer, Chief Visionary Officer at Hensoldt.

Summarising South Africa’s unique local challenges, and the need for regional perspective when it comes to issues of security, Pfeiffer presented open-source intelligence (OSINT) as a situational awareness tool in the complex security and defence domain on the African continent.

With advanced OSINT data, he illustrated how this technology can be used to monitor developing situations, with the Mozambique terrorism situation being a case in point.

Professor Philip Haupt, Senior Marketing Executive at Hensoldt South Africa and Adjunct Professor at the National Aerospace Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand, also shared how unique local products and technologies need to be used as tools to mitigate civil unrest and to enhance effective national security processes.

“The South African industry has significant world-class know-how, resources and technologies that can be used as a force multiplier during unanticipated events such those we saw in the last month,” he said.

In addition to the all-important topic of cyber technology, Venter also spoke about communication, specifically wireless communication; 5G and the current big technology that will change and drive global growth; commercial or weaponised drones; 3D printing within the 4th Industrial revolution and artificial intelligence.

“We need to invest in the technologies that counter these threats and collaborate to address a diverse and evolving threat environment. Authorities can use the technologies at their disposal to their advantage to protect our sovereignty,” said Venter.

Sihle Mayisela, Executive of Strategic Affairs at Hensoldt South Africa closed off the day’s proceedings by reflecting on South Africa’s defence industry and some recent developments as was highlighted by the speakers during the event.

Hensoldt South Africa’s integrated security and surveillance solutions harness the combination between security technologies and advanced sensors to protect assets, infrastructure, perimeters and borders. Radar, optical sensors and physical barriers are used in combination with signal-intelligence technologies for maritime surveillance, wildlife protection, border security and physical infrastructure security.

“The very nature of this event illustrated our modern-day capability to transcend borders and barriers using technology and reminds us how our threats can do the same. Our advantage as security experts and solution providers lies in our ability to collaborate, share ideas and build on our shared intelligence,” Venter concluded.