Cyber Impact

Cyber Impact

Why physical and IT security are converging

Today’s retail banks are nothing like they were in your grandfather’s day. Back then customers conducted all their banking business in a physical branch. Now, thanks to mobile technology, most customers rarely step across the threshold, opting instead to bank remotely from whatever device and location they want. This shift in banking practices has forced financial institutions to rethink their security measures and go beyond brick and mortar to include the cyber realm, as well.

In essence, physical security is now converging with IT security. With today’s technology evolving at blinding speed, this blurring of the boundaries was inevitable. The goals, however, remain the same: protect assets, mitigate risk and maintain business continuity. There are a few important differences. With these new network-based technologies, financial institutions become more agile and responsive to threats.

Furthermore, these security solutions are easily scalable as the business grows. But to fully embrace the potential benefits of this converging technology, banks need to understand how this technology maps into their previous security landscape.


For many years, the IT and physical security departments were two very distinct entities, both necessary and vital to an organization but with different objectives. The main focus of IT was to ensure that the enterprise networks were operational, secure and ready, and that business operations were connected and running smoothly. The main focus of the corporate security director was to ensure that the company’s financial assets were protected, brick and mortar facilities were secure and a security presence was visible to deter potential treats. Until now, it wasn’t uncommon for these two departments to have very little interaction.

But, that is beginning to change with the growing number of smarter, networkbased security technology now available on the market. Today the two departments are sharing common tools and working in concert to mitigate both physical and cyber threats to the institution.

One of the main drivers behind this change is that the average size of internal security staff is shrinking. To compensate, corporate security directors have had to augment their limited security staff with smart technology that can provide traditional security support while also handling some of the decision making. Banks have begun programming their intelligent network devices to conduct critical analysis based on preconfigured embedded functionality, and then make decisions automatically without having to wait for someone manning a PC to provide instructions.

A good example of this is network routers that can be programmed and segmented to detect and route specific network traffic, such as financial transactions, e-mail or surveillance video, according to preset conditions and priorities. As intelligent devices for physical security become ever smarter and processing capacity ever greater, eventually most important decisions and/or processing will be performed in the field on the endpoint devices connected to the network. This is known as a distributed or decentralized model. The solution is highly scalable: all that’s required is a PoE connection to both power and transmit data.

Because IP devices run on the enterprise network and are based on open standards, they provide a clear advantage over analog technology where systems and sites usually operate as independent silos, which require extra manpower to manage and retrieve information. These proprietary systems have limited scalability and don’t easily integrate across locations or with other security technologies, such as fire detection and access control. As a result, unlike IP-based systems, their investment value tends to diminish as the institution grows and expands its portfolio of security tools.


The rise in cyber attacks and their potentially devastating impact on business operations has led many retail banks to spend more time and money on improving cyber security programs and implementing best security practices. They’re taking steps to assess how much they know about potential threats to the institution’s enterprise network and then taking strategic action to ensure that it is kept as secure as possible.

Often the first step in assessing threats is to recognize that any enterprise network and all devices connected to it can leave a door open for a cyber-attack. Therefore, financial institutions need to be especially diligent when adding any device to the network. When it comes to deploying a physical security system technology on the bank’s network, it’s important for corporate security directors to work closely with IT to evaluate network capacity and vulnerability, understand corporate security procedures, and follow best practices.

Statistics show that the majority of security breaches stem from human error, misconfiguration and a lack of processes. So it is critical that not only the retail banking organization but also the entire vendor supply chain share responsibility for protecting the network and all its devices and services by adhering to stringent security protocols.


One of the more popular physical security devices being deployed across banking networks today are IP video cameras. From an IT perspective, an IP camera being used in a security system is a network end-point similar to a desktop computer. Therefore the security camera should meet certain basic IT security standards such as having assigned password protection as a first line of defense. As with any network device, the banking institutions should follow some basic protection recommendations:

  • Perform a risk analysis of the enterprise network: Identify internal and external threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Gain knowledge on system protection and possible threats: Determine what levels of protection exist and the known weaknesses.
  • Secure the network: Create a standard IT security policy that can be audited.
  • Review and change factory default settings: Change default usernames and passwords regularly and frequently.
  • Use strong passwords: The strength of a password is a function of length, complexity and unpredictability.
  • Prevent cameras from being directly accessible on the Internet: This feature should be selectable in the camera configuration during programming.
  • Use encrypted connections when possible: This is a method of using security functionality or devices to encrypt network traffic to and from a device.
  • Check security logs frequently: Information should always be logged for later review and audit.
  • Monitor devices on a regular basis: Develop random, periodic testing and confirmation for all devices on the network.
  • Use the latest device firmware available: Always promptly install required security patches and firmware that correct known vulnerabilities.

Although there will always be potential threats when adopting new technology, the benefits should be weighed by both IT and physical security to ensure that every possible step has been taken to seamlessly merge cyber and physical security programs. Doing so will make it possible for the institution to become more proactive, collaborative and successful in mitigating potential risks.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Security Today.

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