Protective Security: Are You Lost In The Fog?
Updated: May 30
Many an information security/cybersecurity specialist will be able to relate to the feeling of being 'Lost in the Fog', as they began their careers within the InfoSec/CyberSec world.
There are so many pressures to get things right, whilst balancing the costs to the business and which security frameworks and security solutions are right for the business. Those early years of an individual's career can be extremely challenging and this field is so diverse that it takes a great deal of time before someone gleans the experience to become the 'Expert' that most businesses are looking to hire.
"Expert (adj.) late 14c., "having had experience; skillful," from Old French expert, espert "experienced, practiced, skilled" and directly from Latin expertus (contracted from *experitus), "tried, proved, known by experience," past participle of experiri "to try, test," from ex "out of" (see ex-) + peritus "experienced, tested," from PIE *per-yo-, suffixed form of root *per- (3) "to try, risk." The adjective tends to be accented on the second syllable, the noun on the first. Related: Expertly; expertness".
Is it any wonder that the industry is reporting that there is a skills shortage?
I was fortunate enough to have honed my experiences through the exceptional opportunities that only life in the RAF Police could ever have provided and it all started during my very first operational deployment, where I first experienced that awful feeling of being 'Lost in the Fog'.
Setting the Scene
I can clearly remember the disoriented feeling I experienced during my first deployment, providing Protective Security support, to the International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. I had just turned 18 years of age, having completed my basic RAF Police training course I went straight onto my RAF Police basic training course and it was whilst still on this training course, the entire course was deployed to provide night-time RAF Police dog patrols.
We were to be accommodated in the single living accommodation, at RAF Brize Norton, and were to spend each night of the deployment patrolling the airfields and aircraft dispersals, at RAF Fairford.
I was just 8 months into my RAF Police career and my only experiences had been on the RAF training courses:
6 weeks recruit training - RAF Swinderby.
2 weeks driver training - RAF St Athans.
1-week station guard - RAF St Athans.
7 weeks RAF Police training - RAF Newton.
1-week Station guard - RAF Newton.
6 weeks level 7 Infantry training - RAF Newton.
Now, just 4 weeks into my Qualified Police Dog handler (QPD) course, I was sent on my very first operational deployment.
One Night Lost In The Fog
During this first operational deployment, we would spend the afternoons continuing to train our basic Police Dogs, so that they could achieve the standard to 'Pass Out' at the end of the course. However, during the hours of darkness, we would be patrolling the strange and foreign environments of the RAF Fairford airfield and dispersals.
Looking back at this situation, this was clearly a considerable risk that the RAF was taking. It was the summer of 1989 and we had just received many weeks of training to help us appreciate that there was a threat from the hostile Foreign States, as well the ever-present threat from Irish Domestic Terrorism.
In fact, in 1989, UK Military establishments had been on high alert to the Irish Republican Army's mainland campaign.
Now, to set the scene, it is important to note that these trainee RAF Police working patrol dogs were only 4 weeks or so into their training (Mine had been named Tyson) (at the time, it was common for the donated dogs to have been named 'Tyson', 'Bruno' or 'Max').
At the time, it was common for the donated dogs to have been named 'Tyson', 'Bruno', 'Rocky' or 'Max' (aka Mad Max), as prior to this, they had been somebody's pet.
"Most dogs used by the RAF police come from public donations or dog rescue organisations, and unlike their civilian police counterparts the RAF police do not have a puppy breeding programme."
Source: UK Defence Journal - Dogs of War
Imagine how this would have felt like an 18-year-old, just starting in a Royal Air Force Police career.
The realization of this situation suddenly dawned on me, as I came towards the end of one of my night shifts. During one of those summer nights, I had been alone on this airfield, with only this part-trained (not quite the full 42-toothed furry Exocet that would be needed) to keep me company.
As dawn started to break, down came the thickest blanket of fog. I was completely lost and disorientated and there were no visible landmarks on which I could gain my bearings. Initially, I calmly started walking in all different directions, trying to find some kind of marker that I could use to orientate myself. No matter which direction I would walk, it seemed like there was an endless sea of nothingness. The longer I spent walking around trying to find something, the more anxious I became.
I started thinking to myself, wouldn't this dense, thick blanket of fog be the perfect cover for a terrorist incursion. The longer I was alone, in the eerie silence, the more my imagination started to run away with itself.
What if I was to come across an intruder?
Not knowing my whereabouts, how could I radio for assistance?
How effective would be 'part-trained' working police dog be?
The longer this went on, the more I began to panic. I seemed to have been walking for hours and not getting anywhere. My heart rate started to race and my brisk patrol pace had increased to a jog but still, I seemed to be getting nowhere.
Now, they say that your emotions can travel down the lead/leash and, in the early hours, of that morning, they certainly did. Suddenly, 'Tyson' stopped in his tracks, his ears appeared fully alert, before suddenly swiftly pulling across to the right, in front of me, with his nose forcefully sucking in any airborne scent.. The rope lead/leash was stretched out to its fullest extent, so much so that you could hear the strained fibres stretching. In fact, at that point, the only sounds I could hear were this and Tyson's heavy breathing, as the thick, dense fog appeared to magnify these sounds back to me.
During my 4 weeks of the QPD course, I had been taught how the patrols had superior senses and could detect the scent of an intruder, from up to 1 to 1.5km away. This had all the hallmarks that Tyson had picked up the scent of an intruder.
I desperately tried to look through the now light grey soup of fog, hoping to catch a reassuring sight of a friendly silhouette but no matter how hard I looked, I could not make out anything beyond Tyson's outstretched, as he outstretched to the full extent of his restraint.
What was I to do?
What if this was a terrorist incursion?
What if they were armed?
How could I safely make an arrest in such dense fog?
How could I apply the 'Rules of Engagement', if I didn't know what was hiding within this thick covering of fog?
I was left with no other choice, than to allow Tyson to follow up on what he had discovered. Under a controlled jog, we set off into the thick soup of fog. Suddenly, Tyson lurched to the right. After several steps, he would lurch to the right and then back in the direction that we had originally come from, then another abrupt direction change.
This seemed to continue, for what seemed like hours.
I was frantically trying to work out what was happening and to interpret what might be happening, beyond my sight. The air had been very still, without much of a breeze, but Tyson's superior senses had picked up on something.
What could it be?
Were they desperately trying to evade being caught?
How could they be moving around so quickly and quietly, and be invisible to me?
After what seemed like an eternity had passed, we still had not seen sight of or caught anything. I was now breathing heavily and perspiring profusely when the morning's sun had started to rise above the horizon, making the sea of fog a little thinner.
With a sense of relief, I was starting to make out some of the scenery deeper into the fog. The darkness of the night was starting to lighten and the fog was beginning to lift. It was at this point, I started to realise that I would soon discover what Tyson had been chasing down............
Yes, my lack of experience had resulted in my having spent what seemed like hours being lost in a thick blanket of fog, chasing down what I thought to be armed terrorists.
However, the reality being that I been dashing and darting around this empty airfield, only to be chasing.........
Only a few weeks later, 'Tyson' would fail his aggression test and would be deemed to be unsuitable to be an RAF Police working dog and I would need to reteam with Jake, who would later qualify with me to participate in the UK Provost Marshall's RAF Police Working Dog Trials.
However, after Jake's retirement, I would have some further success with another dog named 'Tyson'.
There are extremely important lessons that business leaders can glean from this experience. When you are looking to recruit a suitable CyberSec/InfoSec specialist into your business, to help protect your organisation, look beyond your ever-growing shopping list of desirable qualifications and make sure that as well as being 'Qualified', they have the experience that they need.
Additionally, if your business already has people employed in CyberSec/InfoSec roles, remember to rotate the job roles so that you provide them with greater opportunities to gain wider experiences. Try to avoid keeping that person in a single role, just because they were hired for that particular role. If an opportunity arises where they can stand in for someone else or can be given time to shadow and learn another employee's role, then please grasp this opportunity to broaden the employee's experiences.
Yes, there's a chance that these broader experiences might make them a more attractive candidate for another company but it may also provide the challenge and variety your specialists are looking for, which might encourage them to reject any offers to move away from that organisation that has shown an investment in them.