By Greg Kemper
Critical infrastructure systems, networks, and assets that our nation depends on must be kept operating to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of our communities. Yet protecting these facilities is becoming increasingly difficult. In many facilities, the scope of operations is expanding and regulations are changing, impacting established processes. Also, cyber and physical threats are becoming more frequent and complicated.
Meeting these diverse challenges is complex. Security teams must develop a strategy that meets their current and future needs and goes beyond securing people and assets.
Deploying a unified security system is an important step in achieving this goal. A portfolio of unified security solutions addresses evolving security needs while also improving operations and simplifying compliance.
Protecting against cybersecurity breaches – and human error
Cybersecurity threats continue to pose an important risk to critical infrastructure. Cyber breaches are often not the work of highly adept cybercriminals. Instead, they are the result of opportunistic individuals exploiting human error.
For example, access control credentials are a common source of vulnerability. Credentials are often not closely managed or regularly audited. Employees may change roles and retain access to sensitive areas they no longer need to visit. Or they misplace keys and fobs, lend them to others, or leave them out where they can be stolen or copied.
In addition, legacy access control systems contain important vulnerabilities that make it easier for bad actors to gain unauthorized access. Without active monitoring, it can take a year or more for organizations to discover a breach — and weeks or months to mitigate the risks.
The solution is to upgrade older access control systems to a unified solution that automates the process of auditing credentials. Your organization can reduce the likelihood of unauthorized access through human error. This also decreases the time that it takes to discover and address a security breach.
A unified security platform that links credentials to employee and contractor identification files can automatically adjust access rights to certain areas based on attributes. These include an individual’s job function, employment status, or other factors. It can also switch access on or off based on the time of day, or for a specified length of time. Temporary access rights don’t accidentally continue longer than they should.
In addition to automating access credentials, unified systems can also more effectively address vulnerabilities due to hardware or software malfunctions. They can automate the detection and resolution of these issues and generate a dashboard with a cybersecurity scorecard. This helps IT and security teams spot and respond to weaknesses or threats.
For example, IP cameras can be a weak point for security if the software is out of date or a password isn’t strong. A unified security platform can point out these issues and help guide operators to take action.
When implementing a new system, make sure to choose a manufacturer that demonstrates cybersecurity is a top priority. In addition to strong cyber resilience measures built into their software and hardware, they can help your security team develop an overall strong cybersecurity strategy.
A layered approach to physical security
In addition to cyber breaches, physical attacks on power grids and substations have been on the rise in recent months. While critical infrastructure facilities are protected by tall fences topped with barbed wire and other barriers, attackers have discovered a way to damage infrastructure without crossing the perimeter.
In a TIME Magazine article on the subject published earlier this year, a representative for US Homeland Security said that extremists and domestic terrorism groups are targeting power stations. With a bullet in the right spot, they can take down the whole power grid. Attackers may also gain other benefits, such as unfettered access to other sites made vulnerable by the power outage.
According to a report by CBS News, this type of physical attack on power grids increased by 71% in 2022 compared to the year before. Security experts quoted in the article noted that new fencing, better cameras, or lighting may not prevent these attacks. The best approach to protecting critical infrastructure is to improve resilience, add redundancy, and remove single points of failure.
A layered approach to physical security is key. Fences, cameras, sensors, environmental design, and other tactics all play a role.
A thoughtfully designed unified system brings all of these together in one interface, empowering your team to spot trouble quickly and respond more effectively. This may include defining what happens if important systems fail. They can help your team activate standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the incident without delay.
Benefits beyond security
A unified security platform can also do much more than protect against threats. The information collected by the system can also improve your operations and ensure compliance.
For example, one of the main physical security requirements of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is that Energy & Utilities organizations must record all access control activities, maintain logs for authorized access, and monitor critical facilities for unauthorized access 24/7.
In the event of an access breach, NERC stipulates that organizations must investigate and categorize the alarm incident and implement the appropriate response plan within 15 minutes. Verification of the alarm details as well as the response must be documented and are subject to an audit and review by the NERC Regional Entity.
A unified security system that optimizes evidence reporting and the digitization of SOPs can help your organization comply with these regulations. Being able to securely collect, manage, and share digital evidence from multiple sites makes it easier to meet different audit requirements.
You can also use a unified security system to predefine a wide variety of criteria and create digitized SOPs to guide personnel in their responses to events. This ensures compliance across a distributed organization. All security teams, regardless of shift or location, are operating according to the same SOPs. This is especially important when exporting and sharing workflow diagrams and incident reports with auditors.
Multi-faceted solutions through unification
Unifying video monitoring, access control, automatic license plate recognition (ALPR), intrusion, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices helps improve security and efficiency on many fronts.
As critical infrastructure facilities experience increasing threats and challenges, you can help your team be prepared by building stronger security and operational strategies. With a unified system, you can improve your expanding operations, keep pace with changing regulations, and defend against increasingly complex cyber and physical threats.
Greg Kemper, Regional Director, Enterprise Sales – Central U.S.
Greg Kemper joined Genetec in April 2011, starting with roles as Strategic Accounts Manager and Commercial Head for Buildings and Industrial Practices. In January 2021, he transitioned to his current position as Regional Director of Enterprise Sales for the Central U.S. He has over 25 years of experience in the security industry, starting as a tech trainer before moving into sales engineering, account management, business development, and finally, leadership.
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