Be Strong

Be Strong

Asset and infrastructure protection: only as good as the weakest link

There are assets within our buildings, towns, states and across the nation that make up the totality of what can be considered a network of critical infrastructure. These assets include transportation systems, water/ power/gas utilities, information and communications networks, and municipal and emergency services.

It is not an overstatement to say that protecting a single asset plays a critical role in the health of the rest of the infrastructure network. Consider the importance of a single cell phone tower or fire department in the aftermath of a storm. Or, consider the need to keep natural gas lines and power stations protected from any type of impact.

Looking at examples of how municipalities or governments protect these assets can help businesses plan as well. Critical infrastructure for businesses often shares similar needs with municipalities: how do we best protect servers, structures and the people who live and work in private buildings?

When we look at securing the assets that make up our critical infrastructure we look at it with a two-pronged approach:

  • How do we physically secure or safeguard these areas to keep out individuals attempting to tamper with them?
  • How do we make these assets resilient to natural disasters and other emergency events?

The built environment has a major role to play in both of these areas, and physical security—including doors, door hardware and access control—is one of the most important considerations in protecting important assets.

Physical Security

To protect critical assets within a building, managers must first identify what is critical to the community, the business and/or the people served. There are a few guidelines on this as outlined by both the federal government and third-party groups. That said, the goal is typically to assess both physical and digital assets that must be protected for the benefit of the organization, and then seek ways to eliminate any vulnerabilities that might allow unauthorized access.

In terms of physical security, one of the best ways to keep an individual out of a specific area is to use the appropriate combination of doors, door hardware and access control components to thwart would-be intruders. For some, this can be as simple as installing components from a trustworthy manufacturer.

It is also critical to undergo routine maintenance checks of all assets. Ensure that all doors and hardware are in working condition. Do the doors close and latch? Do the keys and locks work? Regularly take a key inventory, and if keys are constantly missing, consider moving to an electronic access control system or intelligent key solution to mitigate this risk.

A well-looked-after facility is always the first step in thwarting a physical intrusion. However, there are unique situations that could require a more robust level of protection.

Specialty Solutions

Attack-resistant openings have the ability to repel physical attacks for a sustained period of time. These solutions can withstand an attack from hand tools and firearms and are often used for life-safety. That said, the opening can also be installed to thwart an attack on a room or location that houses critical assets.

Taking that thought a step farther, blast-resistant openings are also designed to meet the standards needed on critical government buildings such as military installations and embassy buildings. If the facility or asset you are tasked with protecting requires this level of protection, be aware that there are solutions available. Additional specialized solutions like radio frequency shielding, for example, are available on doors and openings to keep sensitive equipment from potential harm.

Digital Assets

When it comes to protecting digital assets from unauthorized access, NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation) standards for Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) include specifics for digital security.

  • Standard CIP-006-3c was established to ensure the implementation of a physical security program for the protection of critical cyber assets.
  • Standard CIP-006-5 was established to manage physical access to Bulk Electric Systems (BES) cyber systems by specifying a physical security plan to protect these systems against compromise that could lead to mis-operation or instability in the BES.

Intelligent locking and key systems, which not only provide robust physical security but also digital rights management and access audit trails, are ideally suited to help utilities which follow NERC standards. These systems also work well in verticals such as data centers, public buildings, financial institutions, hospitals or any business where server racks are storing critical information.

Further, as intelligent locks and keys can be fit to almost any type of cabinet or opening, the use extends far beyond just digital assets. Hospitals have a need to protect narcotics, medical supplies and patient records. Banks also store paper records that need to be kept under robust lock and key. Several corporate users, from small and midsize business to enterprise, could benefit from ensuring that their paper assets or supplies remain secure.

Many intelligent locks have added resilience by leveraging battery power, which allows them to be untethered from the power grid status. With access control information stored either locally on the lock, or on the credential itself, locks will still work in the event of a flood or power outage.

This consideration dovetails in with the need for critical assets to be resilient in the face of a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado.

Hurricanes. When planning for hurricanes, the goal is to ensure all doors, windows, walls and roofs remain in place on the building to protect the interior and contents of the structure. Furthermore, in a situation where high winds will pummel doors with debris, buildings must be equipped with impact-rated doors and door hardware.

Hospitals, fire stations and police stations typically take a “defend in place” type of approach during these events as they will be operationally critical in the aftermath of a storm and may serve as shelters. To protect these locations, building owners and integrators need to be aware of what changes in air pressure or storm surge are likely to be encountered during a storm—it may be necessary to install different openings on the ground floor of a building as opposed to the 10th floor, for example.

As noted previously, access control devices that can run in a stand-alone mode—where power and credential management aren’t dependent on a network or power grid—means security remains intact even in the aftermath of a storm. For business and building owners (regardless if they must remain operational in the aftermath of a storm) keeping assets secure during this time may be critical. For government facilities, access control devices that support mandated PIV credentials and can function independent of a network or power grid may be a consideration.

Tornados. Tornados are fundamentally different from hurricanes in that the building is not intended to survive the impact of the storm. Instead, buildings are built to ensure that the people inside of a tornado- affected building survive. In regions of the country designated as active tornado areas, it is a requirement to build code compliant shelters in certain public buildings to ensure life-safety is prioritized.

An important reality of tornado-level events is that critical infrastructure must rely on redundancy. For business, this means ensuring mission critical assets are digitized and backed up using infrastructure designed to tolerate failures gracefully, like a cloud-based solution. For municipalities, it means relying on neighboring cities, counties and the federal government to assist in critical operations. When one link breaks, the others are ready to carry the load.

There are too many critical assets to count in this short of space— power lines, grain silos, off-site data centers, water pumps, emergency service buildings, shelter locations, financial institutions, and more are all critical in some way. What is important to note is that having each of these protected individually, is what ensures the entire critical infrastructure network remains intact.

The Universal Solution

There is no “one size fits all” solution. Each building in every community will have its own specific needs. That said, whether your role requires safeguarding a fire station’s garage and ambulances, a utility station located away from the city, or the HIPAA-protected patient files at a hospital, there are solutions to meet those needs.

As a business or building owner, a facility manager, or anyone with a role in protecting critical infrastructure, it’s imperative to develop partnerships with leading local and national safety and security experts. Local integrators and trusted manufacturers are ready and willing to assist in protecting the assets that are important to your organization and potentially, to the community at large.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Security Today.


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