Security Needs a New Direction

The UK newspapers are full of more stories about the dreadful state of Heathrow Airport. But it’s not surprising. It’s a sign of the times. And the fault lies with security. Because its objectives are outdated. They need to be refocused to reflect the new challenges of the Information Age.

In the past, security was primarily directed at safeguarding static assets, whether physical or intellectual. The introduction of networks has generated the need to move towards a more dynamic security model. In particular, the new focus needs to be on exploitation rather than ownership of assets. Because we now have a powerful international infrastructure to move information to where it can most profitably be used.

Alvin Toffler first pointed this out several decades ago. He wrote that “as time goes on the most important thing about a scientific and technological base may not be what information is in it at any given moment, but the speed with which it is continually renewed and the richness of communication carrying specialized know-how to those who need it and acquiring knowledge swiftly from all over the world. It is not the stocks but the flows that will matter”.

But Toffler missed a bigger picture. It’s not just flows of information but flows of people and products that generate business value. I’ve been preaching this message since the atrocities of 9/11 led to many business flows being stopped dead in their tracks in the name of security.

I’ve made this point many times to national security representatives. The response is always the same. “Yes we agree that security must be balanced against business needs.” Wrong. It should set out to keep business moving. The authorities just don’t get it. And that’s one reason why Heathrow is in such a mess.

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