“It is essential to integrate security into all the organisation’s strategies”
Margherita Volpe, leader of the Security and Space knowledge area at Zabala Innovation, explains the versatile nature of technologies related to these fields
These are two of the areas that concentrate the most technological advances: security and space are key sectors for the correct development of our daily lives. Margherita Volpe knows this, and as leader of Zabala Innovation’s Security and Space Area, she reviews some of the most relevant challenges in this interview.
Is security usually present in the innovation strategy of the different actors, or is it a topic that is not given much importance?
Security is treated differently depending on the type of actor and their approach. It is not an issue exclusively reserved for operators in the sector, but affects all actors as in a chain, where the weakest ring determines the level of security of the entire value chain.
It is true, however, that the larger players are more organised to deal with the different security problems that may affect them. Although not all of them actively integrate security into their innovation strategy, most large industrial groups or public and private organisations have plans for risk management, prevention, mitigation and recovery in case of attacks, and work to provide their employees with minimum tools to deal with the risks that affect the company.
What about small actors?
In the case of small players (e.g., SMEs), the situation is different: some SMEs or start-ups have a clear focus on security because it is part of their core business, but others do not take it into account in their innovation strategy or in the protection of their achievements, resulting in a high risk for themselves and their customers.
This is why it is essential that security is integrated in all strategies of each organisation: by design in all products/prototypes and as a culture in the people working in the company, in order to ensure active protection from emerging threats.
What are the main security threats we face?
They are manifold, ranging from cybercrime to physical threats generated by climate change and extreme weather events (floods, heat waves, etc.). The challenge is not so much to eliminate the threat, but to prepare for a reaction that minimises the impacts and ensures the resilience of systems and people working or living in the environments affected by these threats.
In addition, it is important to consider both the threats themselves and their cascading effects and interdependencies between systems, which has been made more relevant by trends such as digitalisation. As it connects different systems, attacking for example weaker points such as sensors controlling a remote facility can affect the entire network and its key points.
Is there a smooth collaboration between the different social actors involved in security?
It does not seem so. The security sector is seen as a niche market by many actors and civil society and is somehow perceived with respect and distance. It would be important to move away from this perception, for example, to make the police more aware of the perceptions of communities and minority groups, or to make the public an active actor in crises rather than a victim to be cared for. Or to improve employee awareness of virtual and physical threats, so that they can improve their own protection and that of all the value chains in which they operate.
How do satellite technologies help us in our daily lives?
Satellite technologies can help us in many ways and find applications in most sectors, from locating vehicles or people in a given environment, to improving decision-making or predicting long-term scenarios from satellite imagery.
The European Commission develops specific component-based services such as Copernicus, the dedicated fire prevention service used by many actors in both academic and more operational environments. And it is clear that it is trying to get a lot of value out of satellite technologies, because in European calls for proposals it promotes the use of its components (Copernicus and Galileo) in contexts that are not only space or security, but also energy, environment, transport…
Do security and space have applications in all industrial sectors?
This is certainly the case. If we think about more distant environments or sectors, they also have applications or needs linked to security and space.
For example, in health, a lot of work is being done on sharing data to provide better services to citizens and to improve databases for research. But this data belongs to individuals, and it is essential to ensure that it is not manipulated or stolen during a cyber-attack, and that it is treated in a way that is “aligned” with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). At the same time, there is health research that can bring a lot to the defense environment, for example to reduce the risks linked to chemical or bacteriological contamination (CBRNe).
Or if we think of the agricultural sector, satellite technology applications can allow us to analyse the health of fields, for example.
Where are we heading in these sectors?
The most interesting technologies at the moment for the security field have to do with the application of drones, artificial intelligence and satellites to manage crisis situations (natural disasters or terrorist acts) and to contrast criminal acts.
On the subject of space, the medium-term future is the concrete application of technologies close to the needs of the different markets, as well as the reduction of the impact and costs of these technologies. Also, to use them to contribute to the EU’s cross-cutting objectives, such as the Green Deal, or the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation in this sector, with programmes such as CASSINI.
What are the flagship European programmes that fund actions in the field of security and space?
The Horizon Europe Programme dedicates a destination to space for the development of space technologies (such as propulsion systems) and the applications of its core components (Galileo and Copernicus), and an entire cluster to security, covering the fight against crime and terrorism, cybersecurity, disaster resilience and border management, among others.
And the European Defense Programme, launched in 2021 after a few years of experimentation (PADR, EDIDP), covers development and research actions in military environments, with the possibility of transferring civilian results or products to the military environment, with a focus on different areas: health, energy, military vehicles, cybersecurity, etc.
Is there awareness of this financial support?
Large companies (such as Leonardo or Thales) are very aware of these opportunities, so the challenge is to involve the less usual actors (NGOs, researchers) in the development opportunities of this sector, because it is still perceived as very closed and dedicated exclusively to the big players.
What is the work of your area in this respect, does it have to do a lot of pedagogy?
Yes, externally and internally, so that this sector is not seen as something vertical and aimed only at specialists, but that it forms part of all projects. In our area we work to be always up to date with the latest developments in financing for these sectors, and with the latest developments in the market. In addition, we develop projects for our clients and promote the active participation of our company as an actor that can contribute a lot in terms of social innovation perspective.
In this video you can learn more about the work of Zabala Innovation’s Security and Space knowledge area.