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More Than Just a Wire

IP networking adds value to physical security

Convergence is not new. The IT networking industry has experienced multiple waves of convergence over the past 20 years. And with each wave, convergence has delivered new capabilities and some unexpected high-impact, even game-changing, innovations.

The ability to deploy physical security operations securely and effectively over an IP network has been available for some time. Factors that contribute include high-performance computer chips that can efficiently digitize and process analog video from surveillance cameras; falling costs for the digital storage of information, including video recordings; and a wide range of fault-tolerant features that are an inherent part of IP networking.

Some of the expected capabilities of running a physical security operation on an IP network include access to information from a remote location, such as a manager's home, via a secure, virtual private network connection. This might allow security management to respond more quickly to a given event and coordinate with on-site personnel. New devices also can be used to access information. You might find it helpful to view video on a PC or even a cell phone, for example, rather than on an analog display.

The Extensible Platform

But true convergence doesn't simply use the IP network as a wire. It becomes part of an extensible platform: a platform to build new capabilities, to realize new uses and to support new users, thereby unlocking the true value of these systems -- and in this case, enhancing the physical security group's value to the organization.

Today, almost every business and organization is concerned with the safety and security of its people and assets, regardless of whether those assets are material or electronic. Physical attacks can target people and buildings; they also can be part of the theft of goods or other assets. Of course, the job of physical security professionals is to stop those attacks.

Cyber, or logical, attacks have similar aims of harming business operations or stealing intellectual property. The job of IT security is to thwart those efforts. Thus, common goals and opportunities exist between physical and IT security, thereby helping to drive convergence.

When physical security is brought onto the IP network, it can strengthen both physical and logical security efforts. By tying physical access and network access systems together, IT security personnel can assert specific policies for what, when, where and how certain network resources can be accessed. For example, a converged security system can deny network access to an employee who does not badge in when entering a building. Restricted or classified documents can be better protected if security officials can set a policy that allows only certain PCs in certain locations to access them. The system can be programmed to automatically terminate a network connection from an employee's home if the employee logs on in the office. As a result, physical presence becomes a network-access policy criterion.

Convergence Can Change Behavior

Convergence also creates processes that encourage employee compliance with security policies. For example, employees who must badge in upon entering a facility, even when the door is held open for them by another person, will be more likely to do so if they can't otherwise log on to the network. Interestingly, this requirement also creates the opportunity for some subtle social re-engineering. While many employees do not feel comfortable challenging someone who may follow them into a building without presenting credentials, these same employees can courteously hold the door and remind the stranger to badge in to avoid having to make a return trip to the front of the building. Thus, tailgating by all individuals is likely to decrease.

Through convergence, non-security uses for video can significantly increase the value of an organization's investment in a surveillance system. Video can be used to understand customer behavior or alert management to opportunities to enhance the customer experience, for instance, by shortening check-out lines.

These new applications are only the beginning. Think about how your systems can bring new value to your organization. Ask other departments what problems they have. You might have a solution.

We can debate about converged physical security systems becoming the norm, but given the opportunities and benefits they offer, the question is when, not if, they will arrive. And, because of those benefits, it may be sooner than most of us think.

About the Author

Bob Beliles is the senior manager for physical security market management at Cisco.

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