Paving The Way To Freedom

Physical security embraces benefits of the network

IT leaders today face complex threats in protecting corporate IT networks from cyber threats that include spoofing, data theft, denial-of-service attacks and many other network risks. Enterprise IT departments incorporate multi-layered defense strategies, designed to ensure that any device on the IT network is protected from a large variety of potential threats.

As physical security devices continue to embrace the benefits of network-enabled communication, it opens the door to vulnerabilities. Video surveillance networks can, and have, been used as an entry point for malware. As more customers deploy comprehensive IP security solutions that incorporate IP-enabled edge devices and platforms, it becomes more critical to ensure end-to-end IT security throughout the physical security network.

Less concern has been given to next-generation access control solutions. But that is mostly because of the fact that a majority of enterprises today still rely on traditional, legacy access control solutions to manage access to their facilities. In this article, we take a closer look at the drawbacks to legacy access control systems as well as review the benefits, and risks, of transitioning to the next evolution of access control technologies.


At its core, physical access control solutions (PACS) are designed to safeguard against unauthorized individuals, and serve as a key component of incident and emergency response. Over the past three decades, PACS architecture has essentially remained unchanged. The most important part of the system—granting or denying access—still resides in traditional hardware distributed throughout an organization. These hardware-centric PACS have significant disadvantages including high initial and ongoing costs, the inability to integrate with other systems and, because of the inherent restricted architecture, they cannot support sophisticated authentication processes, such as those outlined by the government.

Because traditional hardware-centric PACS architecture limits the capabilities of access control, advanced features and real-time authentication and authorization capabilities are not easily attained. Rather, users have to invest in implementing costly third-party solutions or custom-designing applications. To date, cost and reliability factors have kept such capabilities out of reach for most PACS customers— even though IP-based surveillance systems have capitalized on similar features for more than a decade.

There is, however, a significant change on the horizon. Today’s critical business systems are software-centric and require specialized hardware only at the final points of physical interaction (imagine a smart phone or a POS system). These platforms leverage common IT infrastructure to achieve high levels of reliable performance at acceptable levels of cost. Why shouldn’t an organization’s access control system be similar?

IT-centric access control is similar to any network-enabled business application that leverages end devices on the corporate network. This approach streamlines identity, credentialing and access management, and ensures that these processes are integrated with other business systems.

Applications utilize network infrastructure to obtain real-time data, gather enhanced situational awareness, increase asset protection and apply policy-based access control measures to minimize risks and threats. Information within the PACS is easily shared with key stakeholders in the event of an emergency, supporting faster response and proactive approaches to security. Real-time decision-making is enabled and immediate access to critical data drives faster response.


As the interest in IT-centric access control grows because of the far-reaching benefits, it will be critical for users to protect corporate networks from risks faced through traditional IT threats, as well as those that can be funneled through devices that reside on the corporate backbone. Today’s security devices are vulnerable to IT threats just like any other IT device. But it is important to keep in mind that PACS that leverage common processes technologies from the IT world, a wide variety will ensure protection of the IT network. Why? These fundamentals have been tested and enhanced.

Moving to the next evolution of PACS takes work. It’s fundamentally different architecture, which may seem daunting to users that currently manage traditional solutions. But if companies can work to gain buy-in from users and senior management, the benefits of moving to next-generation PACS are far-reaching. Moving towards IT-centric deployments allows organizations to realize significant advantages that enhance physical and IT security, infrastructure and networking functionality across the enterprise.

Network-enabled platforms conform to an IT department’s plan and policies, and leverage common IT methods such as PoE, server redundancy and autofailover. It drives collaboration between security and IT teams because it can derive value from the system. Unified physical and logical identity becomes more of a reality with IP-based PACS because native support for corporate directory and identity management systems streamline system administration and management for both security leaders and IT departments.

Next-generation PACS deliver additional benefits, as well. It eases integration through well-established and trusted standards, which reduce integration complexity. Mobile credentialing is also supported, enabling users to perform real-time device authentication. Today’s smart card technology is also supported—without third-party devices or middleware. This drives digital certification authentication compatible with federal identity standards such as FIPS 201.

By leveraging the existing IT infrastructure, next-generation PACS conforms to IT policies for system security and resilience, allowing access control to be deployed in the same manner that IT deploys other business systems. The ability to integrate easily with other IT solutions is streamlined because of a high level of interoperability based on IT standards. This approach drives the correlation of unified logical/physical identity, credentialing and access data, enabling users’ access to higher levels of data collection and analysis than ever before.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Security Today.


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