Protecting the Infrastructure
A unified approach requires technology and organizational culture
- By Greg Kemper
- Jul 29, 2022
Critical infrastructure facilities can be quite large, so protecting them is a complex challenge that demands multifaceted solutions. Robust, cybersecure technology solutions exist to protect facilities of all sizes and types but getting the most out of these solutions requires attention to the human element as well. Communication between departments, training and development of standard operating procedures and interdisciplinary data collection and analysis are all key components. The right technology, procedures, and processes can help you catch mistakes more quickly and limit or prevent vulnerabilities introduced by employees, visitors or contractors.
It may sometimes feel like IT teams are from Mars and facilities teams is from Venus, but getting all stakeholders in the same room can reveal common ground. By harmonizing security system controls, data, and analytics within one unified platform, everyone can have access to the same information via the same intuitive visual interface. This makes it much easier to get everyone on the same page.
Interdepartmental coordination is key. Security teams, facilities managers, and IT departments often operate independently and may have their own unique workplace culture that defines how they make decisions, communicate, and solve problems. Yet when these groups operate in silos, things slip through the cracks.
Unify Security Systems to Bring Siloed Teams Together
Yesterday’s security solutions can’t keep up with the challenges we face today. By leveraging new, unified security software platforms, your critical infrastructure will be better protected, and you will gain new operational insights that can help you improve workplace safety and stay ahead of regulatory changes.
Modern security systems collect lots of data from cameras, sensors, card readers, and other hardware, and these insights are good for more than just security. Cross-referencing this data can uncover meaningful insights that can improve profitability, such as identifying underutilized spaces that could be repurposed for better use. It can also help reduce nuisance alarms, by creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) that direct the system to alert security only if three or more conditions are met.
Within the unified software platform, each team or individual can set up custom filters and dashboards to spotlight the data that matters most to their work, and easily share insights with other departments or external partners. Your SOPs can be automated to streamline operations and reflect the real dynamics of your business. The system can also be set up to recognize anomalies and set alarms or triggers based on these differences so that potential threats are identified earlier.
Streamline and Modernize Compliance Practices
As the industry becomes increasingly regulated to help protect our critical infrastructure, security teams need to modernize their compliance practices with a security solution that helps them meet regulations and avoid strict penalties and fines if found out of compliance.
It is not enough to have established requirements and responses if these just gather dust on the shelf. Utilities must be able to demonstrate that events have been managed according to their security plan, and that they are in compliance with NERC, TSA or other regulations. At this point, the ability to generate comprehensive reports as well as incident management audits is key.
Whatever regulations or guidelines your organization follows, proving compliance and responding to audit requests is time-consuming. Choosing a modern, unified security software platform makes it much easier, as it is designed to record and retrieve the data you need, as well as to securely share files and reports online. The centralized database makes reporting much less time-consuming and eases the burden of compliance.
Organizations can also anticipate potential threats or challenges and use digitized SOPs to guide personnel in response to these events. In the event of an emergency or urgent situation, having a clear and consistent playbook to follow can help maintain consistency and order. It also ensures all teams, regardless of shift or location, fully understand the actions they must take to maintain compliance with all regulatory authorities.
Now is the Time to Plan for a Future Transition to Hybrid Systems
Selecting a hybrid solution may not be a current top priority or option for your organization. However, as your needs and objectives change over time, you may want to investigate a hybrid system. When moving from a legacy system, it is a good idea to invest in technology that not only meets your current needs but can be flexible and grow with you.
Cloud computing allows organizations to scale data management and storage, improve operational efficiency, enable remote monitoring of facilities and systems, and can result in lower infrastructure costs. According to a 2020 analysis by Accenture, adopting cloud technologies typically reduces IT spending by 25 to 30% and the more cloud technologies are embraced, the greater the benefits.
Yet there remains some hesitancy to make the switch. It isn’t just anxiety around change or worries about the possibility of downtime during the transition; it also includes fears about the security of cloud-based software and data storage.
A multi-layered approach to harden your security system against threats is best, including strong encryption, authentication and authorization protocols. One of the advantages of a hybrid system is that the burden of keeping up with software patches and updates rests with your software and server partners, so your IT resources can focus their time on other priorities.
Tier-one cloud service providers invest significant amounts of time and resources in ensuring the highest levels of cybersecurity. These major platform owners have teams and consultants dedicated to monitoring the latest cyber threats and initiating regular third-party penetration testing and auditing. They also actively uphold various cybersecurity compliance standards and certifications and push the boundaries of cyber resilience to help establish globally adopted best practices.
With hybrid or cloud software solutions, you always have access to the latest built-in cybersecurity features, including granular privacy controls, strong user authentication, and various system health monitoring tools. And as soon as the latest versions and fixes are available, they can be pushed immediately to your system. This helps your physical security systems remain protected against vulnerabilities.
The Importance of Good Cyber Hygiene Routines
The Achilles heel of any system is human error. Humans can be forgetful and unreliable — and hackers are happy to take advantage. According to a 2021 Verizon report on data breaches, 85% of breaches were due to human vulnerability - through phishing, social engineering, misrepresentation, or error. More than 60% of breaches involved credential data.
Protecting your critical infrastructure from these types of threats is crucial. You need a system that can converge your physical and cybersecurity plans to protect sensitive information and reduce your exposure.
Whether you use a cloud-based system, an on-premises system, or a hybrid of both, maintaining good cyber hygiene needs to be part of your organizational culture. From training and onboarding employees to the development of your SOPs, cybersecurity isn’t something you can set and forget; it requires constant vigilance and regular updates, patches, and password changes.
Thankfully, modern security software can be configured to include automated notifications and settings that remind or require staff to follow best practices or alert the appropriate team if suspicious activity is detected.
Industry Transformation Continues
Shifting consumer preferences, emerging cybersecurity threats, and evolving regulations have transformed our industry.
The continued rise in demand for renewable energy is also driving mergers and acquisitions between oil, gas, and power utilities. And as these companies converge, so do their security departments. A unified security system can help ensure a centralized, compliant, scalable security strategy. Likewise, shifting to hybrid solutions can strengthen both physical security and cyber resilience.
It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing choice. Choosing an open-architecture software solution allows you to position your organization to be hybrid-ready when you are ready. You can take your time to strengthen internal awareness and adoption of cybersecurity best practices and make the transition one step at a time.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2022 issue of Security Today.