Regional airports are ramping up their internal security measures as they say the most dangerous threats in today’s aviation world come from within.
Artificial intelligence will play a major role in staff clearance in cities like Dubai and Jeddah in the coming years as it will ensure swift analysis and predictions of potential criminal or terrorist behaviour, a security forum heard on Monday.
“The concept of security has completely changed,” said Farah Al Ansari, head of airport security at Dubai International Airport.
“The threats used to be in restricted areas but now they've moved and affect people and government as they're more spread, like what happened in Brussels and Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, so we’re upgrading our systems to be in line with modern technologies.”
The airport is currently working on staff entrance to ensure greater control by introducing biometrics, more advanced face recognition and artificial intelligence, as opposed to only CCTV cameras and police monitoring now.
“A security pass is still a security threat because an unauthorised person can still access,” she said on the sidelines of the Intersec Security Conference in Dubai.
“We’re already using AI in our Amin system, which covers airport and terminal driving permits, incident reports, inspections and security passes but we still have to test it on security passes this year in Terminal 3.”
It currently takes an hour to issue a security pass.
With the new AI system, police will not be required to check, unless needed, allowing the issuance of 9,000 passes in the same time it took police to issue 250.
“Today, everything is systematic and we can’t stay behind with everything done manually,” said Ms Al Ansari.
“We need to have intelligent systems in place to support security and passenger movement.”
Internal employee threats have been been placed into sharp focus in recent years.
After the bombing of Metrojet Flight 9268 in October over the Sinai desert, which led to the deaths of all 224 people on board, an EgyptAir mechanic with a cousin fighting for Isis, a baggage handler and two police officers were arrested.
And in Australia, the authorities have carried out a series of arrests in recent years of airport border force officers linked to international drug smugglers.
“There are many threats in today’s world so you always need to be alert and be ahead of what’s going on,” Ms Al Ansari added.
“It’s a challenge for us. Techniques of criminals are also more sophisticated so you can never say you’re satisfied with your security systems, especially with more passengers growing through the airport.”
Dubai’s airport is the busiest in the world, handling more than 88 million travellers last year.
Employees are therefore seen as the most vulnerable threat to airport and passenger security.
“Terrorism is the most important issue we have to focus on,” said Capt Adnan Alghamdi, manager of security affairs at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.
“We saw a few years ago Isis and many terrorist groups trying to access airports to harm the aviation industry. Those people can be insider threats and among us so you can’t even know.”
Saudi Arabia is looking to introduce similar AI systems whereby employee profiles and records would be gathered and analysed to predict potential future threats.
“The system makes an analysis of the staff’s behaviour, any record for violence, crime, safety, security and minor incidents, even before they are hired,” he said.
“AI can give us a prediction of his behaviour in the future and the aim is to predict behavioural changes. The problem around the world is we issue a badge, we make a security clearance for a specific person but in a couple of months, he can change so this pays more attention.”
With up to 35 million passengers travelling through Jeddah's airport every year, the system will be key in unveiling any potential danger.
“You can clearly see through Isis’ videos on the internet that they are sending messages to their sleeping cells,” Capt Alghamdi said.
“Employees are the most dangerous threat and it damages the reputation of the country, it’s like a cancer growing inside.”
The new airport in Jeddah, set to open in May, will also include an auto-segregation system for travellers to be categorised by security clearance according to frequent travellers, moderate and those who need additional checks.
“Isis is being pushed out of Iraq and Syria but if they leave Syria and Iraq, they will start leaking into surrounding countries so they have time to find their next attack,” he said.
“AI has a big role to play here. It’s very useful to minimise the manpower and use them somewhere else and let the systems help security agencies to perform efficiently and stream data to use it and come up with results. Analysis is the most important thing in airports because we have continuous 24/7 operations and an immensity of data.”