Securing the Security Camera

Protecting your critical infrastructure against physical and cyber attacks

Today, protecting critical infrastructures is almost unthinkable without the deployment of security cameras. 24/7 camera monitoring enables security professionals to react and respond in time to possible incidents, but what if those same security cameras become a liability in your company’s security efforts? What is the role of your camera network in view of the ever increasing concern of cyber-terrorism?

Our country’s critical infrastructures provide the services that are vital to our society - the essential backbone of our nation’s economy, security and health. We experience it daily via the water and power we use, our transportation systems, the stores we shop in, and communication systems that allow us to stay connected with friends and family.

Today, terrorism has become a fact of life. Terrorists are becoming bolder every year and are now also targeting our countries’ critical infrastructures and industries. For example, recent attacks on the United States Power Grid have convinced security specialists that terrorist attacks to these targets must be addressed with the highest priority.

Roughly speaking, there are two types of security threats that industrial and utility facilities are facing every day: physical threats and cyberattacks. The former type refers to physical intrusions by people, animals or vehicles into the protected area of your facility. The latter refers to the threat of viruses and other malicious software attacking the IP network. These latter threats are diverse, evolving, and capable of any attack a programmer can dream up. The impact of malware can be very serious, ranging from infecting the organization’s computer systems and networks to destabilizing the entire utility infrastructure.

Protecting Against Physical Threats

Video surveillance is probably the hardest intrusion detection technology for adversaries to defeat. For critical infrastructure projects, it is even better to go for thermal security cameras, because these devices offer true 24/7 video surveillance and see intruders better during the day and at night without requiring any form of lighting. Thermal imaging cameras give security forces time to locate, contain, and neutralize adversaries before they can access or cause damage. The entire product spectrum of security cameras is very wide and integrators have a vast array of functionality at their disposal to protect critical facility perimeters or even vast areas inside or outside the facility.

  • Thermal imaging cameras enabling to monitor and protect a site perimeter 24/7, day and night and in the most difficult weather conditions.
  • Video analytics, in combination with visual or thermal cameras, creating a fully integrated perimeter security solution and enable accurate intrusion detection of people, animals or vehicles, and instant visual alarm assessment while minimizing false alarms.
  • Cameras with precision pan/tilt control and fully programmable scan patterns and radar slew-to-cue and slew-to-alarm functionality.
  • Cameras with a wider field-of-view, providing excellent situational awareness, and long-range cameras that can detect intruders from kilometers away.

From Analog to IP-based Digital Infrastructure

The predominant camera technology today is IP. This is definitely the case for new installations and with companies that already have an analog camera network in place, an increasing number of them are seeking ways to switch from analog to IP security cameras in a cost-effective way.

It’s not difficult to see why IP cameras are the preferred technology. First of all, the image quality of a digital camera is much better than an analog one. Additionally, IP cameras are able to capture a much wider field of view than comparable analog cameras, meaning a single IP camera is able to do the job of several analog cameras.

And then there’s the flexibility and scalability, probably to greatest driver for IP camera technology. In a traditional analog set-up, each camera must be connected directly to a DVR. IP cameras on the other hand handle this more economically through the use of switches, which allow cameras in close proximity to each other to be connected to a single switch, which then runs a single wire to the NVR (Network Video Recorder). This reduces the amount of cabling runs, which makes it ultimately less labor intensive, and also allows you to connect more cameras because you’re no longer limited by the number of ports on your DVR.

Total security system replacements (from analog to IP-based) can be expensive and time-consuming. To meet this concern, some companies are offering hybrid solutions in order to connect older analog systems to the flexibility, performance, and value of IP-based surveillance infrastructure. They also offer camera technology that operates simultaneously on both analog and digital networks. This advanced capability works across the exceptionally long cable runs that are common in industrial facilities. This way, companies have the advantage of HD surveillance without the expense and complication of replacing existing coax networks. Replacement with IP-based cabling can be done in phases, allowing for graduated, cost-effective upgrades to IP-based backbones over time.

The Vulnerable IP Network

With the growing number of IP camera security networks, the need for cyber-security becomes ever more critical. The practice of cyberdefense and protecting against viruses, worms and malware has been a non-stop challenge within the IT community for the past 20 years. Conversely, with the transition from analog to IP in video surveillance just really beginning to pick up momentum around the mid- 2000s, protecting devices like cameras from cyber intrusions is something that physical security practitioners are only beginning to wrap their head around.

However, the IP camera network is only a small part of the story. Today, entire infrastructures are communicating with each other over the network through what is commonly referred as the Internet of Things (IoT). A wide variety of sectors use connectivity and computing into devices, such as gas pipelines, cars, airline engines and robots. Connected devices are estimated to be in the billions by 2020. As the IoT begins altering entire industries, threats are quickly evolving to target this extremely vulnerable new landscape. Particularly in the industrial IoT the magnitude of harm now includes physical harm to people, prolonged downtime and loss of wages.

Cyber-defense for Video Surveillance

The numerous, large-scale data breaches that have impacted organizations across multiple vertical markets in recent years have not only highlighted the importance of safeguarding sensitive customer information, but they have also raised awareness about the vulnerability of video surveillance networks as an ever-increasing number of end users make the switch to IP.

Future-proof video surveillance systems have to take these cyberattacks into account and build in additional functionality to withstand the constant threat. Technologies like IP-mmune from FLIR Systems for example help protect cameras against the threat of viruses and other malicious software. Specifically, IP-mmune incorporates cyber defense mechanisms within the company’s video software and hardware products to help seal them off from outside attacks or to isolate them from the corporate network in the off chance they do become infected.

Defense Affects Performance

Still, the vast majority of camera manufacturers have not yet built in protection against cyber threats. The problem is that when IT safeguards are added after the actual installation of the video surveillance system, then the performance of the network could be irreparably damaged. What’s more, if defense in the IP video world is not going to be constructed right, it will affect performance.

IT departments have become very much aware of the vulnerability of the IP network, especially with the increasing number of devices connecting to it. IP networks are can be very inviting for hackers and producers of malware, especially if the focus of the IP applications lies on performance, speed and reliability, and not on security. More often than not, video streams get full priority in penetrating firewalls because there is not enough time to hold back that data to make sure that it’s not affected. If you stop video for even a split second, you create latency and you cannot view it in real time.

Future Challenges

The transition from analog to IP has exposed the security industry to the risks that IT departments have faced for years. As more customers deploy comprehensive IP security solutions that incorporate multiple edge devices and platforms, it becomes more critical to ensure end-to-end IT security throughout the physical security network.

The key challenge for the industry and utilities sectors will be not only to ensure reliable perimeter protection through the use of security cameras, but even more to deploy a cyber-defense strategy that protects critical customer data and assets from unauthorized or malicious IT threats, proactively identifies potential IT threats at any point of vulnerability and prevents them from creating damage.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Security Today.

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