EXCLUSIVE: The convergence of IT and physical security systems

Physical security and access control

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Peter Boriskin, Chief Technology Officer, ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions Americas explores how the combination of IT and physical security systems can be mutually beneficial to improve access control.

A changing approach

The security landscape is constantly evolving to adapt to the changing world around us. As we navigate emerging threats and opportunities for advancement, the interconnectivity between systems is a critical consideration.

Cybersecurity, as well as data protection and governance, are key issues that require close collaboration between IT and physical security.

Convergence has been an important discussion in the security industry for many years. It began to grow in significance as developments in physical security systems enabled the expansion of access control using network infrastructure.

From IP-enabled cameras to edge devices, such as access control panels or access control locks, operating on the local area network (LAN) became a trend that represented a major advancement in technology and practice.

Now, with the dramatic increase in digitization and integration between systems, the intersection of physical security and network security is more critical than ever.

We are also seeing the convergence of security and convenience in applications such as mobile access, smart lockers and video intercom systems.

It’s clear that a comprehensive, holistic approach that combines IT and physical security provides the greatest efficiency and level of protection for organizations as the digitization trend continues.

Both disciplines can benefit greatly from the services the other can provide.

How can physical security benefit IT?

Proper physical security can ensure uptime for IT networks by preventing physical security breaches.

Data centers, whether a colocation facility or a corporate data center located on-site, require a well-designed security system that addresses access from the facility’s perimeter down to the server rack level.

Perimeter security controls access to a building. The basic components can include fencing, bollards, guard booths and entry barriers to create a system of defense against unauthorized access to the general property.

Consider high-security steel fencing that offers excellent strength and an integrated rail design. The heavy steel construction and intimidating profile should act as visual deterrents against intruders as well as provide the physical security and barriers that enable the establishment of a secure perimeter.

For exterior and interior openings, commercial-grade doors, frames and hardware deliver life-safety protection at the building entrance and throughout the facility.

In addition to controlling access to the data center, they must be able to mitigate the risk of fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, emergency egresses and other challenges that pose life-safety threats to building occupants.

Wind debris and severe pressure fluctuations from powerful hurricanes and tornadoes can place incredible stress on doorways.

Specialized products are available to maintain pressure, temperature, sound barriers and radio frequency (RF) transmission blocking, even in doors and frames on interior openings.

While these are not typically considered an IT investment, these are essential considerations for the data center environment as they play an important role in both energy savings and security.

Additionally, fires, power failures and other panic-inducing events can impede emergency exit visibility and create an unsafe environment.

Architects and facility managers can protect against these hazards with doorways designed and tested to withstand such extreme conditions.

Emergency mitigation and containment play crucial roles in the necessary disaster response protocols you have in place or are in the process of developing.

It’s important that the most basic tools in access and security architecture, such as gates, doors and door hardware, meet your security needs and the operational goals of your organization.

Depending on the facility, each opening may need to be rated for hazards such as: climate control; windstorms; hurricanes (for exterior openings); blast and ballistic forces; fire and smoke; RF interference (RFI) and sound transmission class (STC).

Beyond physical security and protection against some of the elements discussed above, exterior and interior doors play an important role in controlling who has access to a facility or specific areas within it.

Advances in access control technology now make it much easier and more affordable to deliver access control to areas that were previously difficult or logistically impossible to reach.

Integrated access control locks combine several discreet access control components into a single lock and are available in a variety of technologies, including Power over Ethernet (PoE), WiFi and wireless.

PoE and WiFi locks connect directly to the access control system using existing IT infrastructure, further reducing costs and providing extra utility from the network.

This range of solutions dramatically reduces installation costs and time, making it far easier to increase security throughout a facility.

At the main doors of a data center facility, technologies such as biometrics and video surveillance can be used to augment physical security and access control.

The third level of security involves access control at the server cabinet or rack. This additional layer of access control provides the degree of security necessary for the most precious commodity within a data center – information.

It is the final barrier that protects businesses against the cost of downtime associated with unauthorized access to network equipment.

This is also true for cabinets housing network equipment in remote locations.

For example, there are hundreds of thousands of intelligent traffic systems (ITS) cabinets on roadsides and at the corner of virtually every intersection across the US.

Used to store and protect the technology that connects and controls traffic signals, vehicles and digital road signage, these enclosures are not only critical for road and highway safety but are also endpoints for state and municipal networks and require protection against cybersecurity threats.

Today, effective security means controlling access to your network in the data center and at the edge.

How can IT benefit physical security?

Existing IT infrastructure can be used to expand access control more easily and affordably.

Most facilities have both a wired and wireless network already in place, so why not take advantage of that network to bring access control to more doors without the cost and difficulty of installing traditional access control?

Historically, legacy access control solutions were closed systems that required the hard-wiring of several discrete components – card readers, locks, door position switches, request-to-exit sensors, access control panels and power supplies – with an RS-485 cable connected into one central panel or controller.

These systems could limit flexibility and the user’s choices of hardware and software.

This lack of flexibility translates into high upfront costs, which can reduce the total number of doors a facility is able to secure during an initial deployment.

The ability to add more openings in the future depends on proximity to the currently deployed hardware.

An opening on another floor, for example, may not be cost-effective due to the point-to-point wiring requirements of these systems.

Conversely, IP-enabled access control technology enables IT and security professionals to design all the components of traditional access control – including card readers, sensors, panels and controllers – into a single, integrated lock accessible from an Ethernet-enabled network.

This provides a significant reduction or complete elimination of custom wiring, plus greater flexibility and scalability, all in a standards-based open architecture.

A network-based system can be expanded one door and one reader at a time, unlike some traditional systems using controllers or panels that support multiple openings, even if only a single new opening is required.

IP-enabled hub-based wireless systems also leverage the IT network and provide the flexibility and scalability to support more doors easily and affordably.

Opportunities to share resources

IT and security systems rely on and support each other, share many common goals and often use the same equipment and infrastructure.

For instance, smart card or mobile phone solutions can be used for both IT applications (network logon or secure printing) and physical security (to gain access to the building itself or areas within the building).

The ability to gain additional utility from investments reduces the cost for each department and simplifies system management when a single credential is used.

Similarly, there are intelligent ways to use one set of capabilities to address another set of requirements.

For example, access control can be used to drive building management systems.

The security management system knows when someone enters a room and can notify the building management system to turn on the lights, heating or air conditioning and electrical outlets.

The ability to use data from the physical security system to manage services throughout a facility changes the game in terms of building management and represents the next era of convergence.

As we move forward and see a continued proliferation of connected devices, the ability to leverage the capabilities of complementary systems will continue to grow and shape the buildings of the future.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the mutually beneficial approach that combines IT and physical security.

By working together to understand each other’s goals, both disciplines will find they can operate more efficiently and effectively when they share resources and maximize their investments in equipment and services.

This article was originally published in the September edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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