Protecting Critical Infrastructure
- By John Nemerofsky
- Apr 01, 2021
Virtually every U.S. citizen counts on the nation’s
critical infrastructure for services and products that
touch their lives daily. These mission-critical operations
include 16 public and private sectors that
the federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency has
deemed to be so crucial that their destruction or disruption would
seriously impact the nation’s security, economy or public health.
The country’s thousands of critical infrastructure sites,
including communications, transportation, energy, healthcare
and food, often have very little in common with their distinct
function, size, location and many other factors. Yet, there are
commonalities in how they are effectively secured.
Innovation is often key to a successful security effort.
Traditional systems and plans – perfectly adequate for a small
retail operation or office building – may lack the sophistication to
ward off a disaster at facilities targeted by highly focused terrorists.
These critical sites require newer technologies or innovative uses
of existing equipment, staff and policies and procedures.
However, a successful plan requires more than merely
installing the proper equipment. A layered approach, in which
the disparate systems integrate and communicate to create the
synergy necessary to protect critical infrastructure from risk and
liability. It’s a constant battle staying ahead of evolving threats
aimed at disrupting these critical sites’ functions.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Preparing and executing a critical infrastructure security plan
requires a systems integrator’s assistance. Choose one with a
proven track record in this area. However, doing the work the way
it’s been done for years isn’t enough. Look for an integrator capable
of thinking outside the box, demonstrated through innovative uses
of existing equipment and regular testing of new solutions.
The lines between physical and cybersecurity are blurring,
making sure the integrator is comfortable with network technology.
Seek a provider looking to the future with an understanding of
artificial intelligence and other pioneering technologies.
Before beginning any new or retrofit security project, ask your
integrator to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. It should
look at surrounding land uses and site access. Consider the expected
number of employees and required parking. Will visitors and vendors
need access to the site? Identify the security and communications
equipment required, as well as written operational policies and
procedures. A good study identifies a site’s security strengths and
weaknesses, ensuring that limited budgets are spent wisely.
It is impossible to create a one-size-fits-all security plan that
fits every critical infrastructure site, each with its own set of
challenges. For example, unattended remote facilities may require
a battery or solar-powered equipment. Microwave and drone
systems help protect perimeters on larger sites. Busy sites benefit
from a visitor management system to track vendors.
But let’s take a more in-depth look at recent changes to two
commonly used security technologies – access control and video
THE NEW ACCESS CONTROL
For more than 40 years, Wiegand protocol systems have
dominated access control and are still widely used. However,
these systems lack signal encryption between proximity cards
and readers. Hackers have tools enabling them to intercept
transmissions and easily create a working credential.
The Open Supervised Device Protocol, recently accepted as
an international access control standard, uses highly secure AES
128- or 256-bit encryption and advanced readers and smartcard
technologies. OSDP enables administrators to regularly and
simultaneously push new encryption keys to a few or thousands
of card readers across one or multiple sites. There’s no need to
create a new card for each user as the latest credentials contain
multiple codes. Hackers are effectively blocked. Any critical
infrastructure site still using the Wiegand protocol must upgrade
The days of plastic credentials are numbered as other
available access control technologies provide greater security and
Biometrics, which measure unique body characteristics, are
recognized by most security professionals as the most accurate
method for identity authentication. Biometrics, integrated with
card-based systems, enable two-factor identity authentication at
the most sensitive entry points. As prices of biometric systems
have fallen, they are entirely replacing cards in some facilities.
A biometric system eliminates the need for employees to carry
cards or remember a PIN. Once enrolled in a site’s database,
employees’ biometrics are recognized at other locations on the
same network. Unlike cards, a biometric can’t be lost or shared.
Also, face- and iris-based recognition systems are touchless – an
essential consideration during the COVID-19 pandemic. And irisbased
systems are unaffected by personal protective equipment
such as gloves, masks and goggles.
Smartphones are another potential card replacement. An app
turns an employee’s mobile phone into a virtual key, enabling it to
communicate with readers using an encrypted Bluetooth signal.
Sending the app via email to visitors and vendors allows them to
enter pre-approved doors without registering at the front desk.
TAMING FALSE ALARMS
Critical infrastructure sites often monitor their live video
surveillance feeds. More extensive facilities may involve hundreds
of cameras and monitoring all is a trying process under the best
of circumstances. False alarms, triggered by harmless events such
as blowing tree branches, make the job more difficult. Operators
diverted from handling genuine alerts reduce a site’s overall
Recently introduced software using artificial intelligence
eliminates 90% or more of false alarms by focusing only on
movement by humans or vehicles.
This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Security Today.