The merger of physical and information security: the new frontier

April 25, 2007

The merger of physical and information security: the new frontier

Why the inability to produce actionable intelligence from physical security systems is hampering organizations

The market for Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) technologies is nascent, with the biggest initial take up being seen in government agencies, law enforcement and the military. But interest is growing fast in the private sector, especially in heavily regulated industries such as financial services, healthcare and transport, as well as in the gaming industry.

As more enterprises look to improve risk management capabilities, an increasing number of organizations are attempting to combine their physical and IT security capabilities. As well as beefing up overall enterprise security, interest in PSIM systems will be driven by companies wishing to improve the security of operations such as access control, secure facilities and for transactional security, such as at the point of sale. And, by using PSIM technologies, they can achieve that without having to rip out and replace their existing investments in security devices.

Physical security is clearly not a new topic. Organizations have attempted to secure their facilities with everything from locks, electrified fences, access controls, to CCTV cameras. In fact, the average organization has as many as 20 different physical security systems in place, each working in isolation. In the main part, each product is likely to be based on legacy technology, generally analog rather than digital, and based on proprietary standards so that it is hard to connect it to other systems. They also generally lack adequate archiving and storage capabilities. And most of them provide information after the fact—allowing for forensic investigation, but not capable of providing proactive mitigation.

As well as this, because physical security equipment tends to be installed in stovepipes at disparate points around a company’s facilities, it is a hard, if not next to impossible task to correlate all the information generated to produce actionable information. Also, the information tends to be raw data, such as a collection of analog video tapes containing hours of footage that must be searched manually by human operators. That makes physical security rather a hit or miss affair.

The drivers behind the convergence of physical and IT security

Organizations around the world are being driven by increased governmental and industry regulation to take a more holistic view of risk management in their organizations. They are realizing that the security of their organizations is only as good as the weakest link. Organizations worldwide have invested heavily in IT security technologies in recent years, focusing on mitigating threats and tying the identities of users and assets to the actions that they take. 

Now, many organizations are also looking to apply the same level of control to their physical assets that reside outside of the corporate IT network. They are looking to develop real-time decision support systems that can perform data collection, integration, analysis and visualization of the security status of all assets in a corporate network. The ultimate goal is the ability to automatically perform surveillance on all assets contained in a network and to be able to provide automated alerts for security incidents, or even automated remediation where possible.

The information imperative

At present, this is a daunting task. In an ideal world, all physical security devices would be internet protocol-enabled so that they could interact digitally with organizational IT networks. This would allow organizations to benefit from being able to bring disparate security controls under the control of the central corporate IT network, increasing security and improving productivity through the remote access that this allows. But, if you consider that some 80% of CCTV cameras being purchased today are still analog, it will be some time before that vision becomes a reality.

This is beginning to change. The newly emerging technology space of PSIM aims to tie disparate physical security systems, such as surveillance, sensors and access control systems, into logical IT systems so that the information generated by each system can be managed. Owing to the problem of non-standard legacy devices, this requires that a unified management platform is put in place that can capture the information feeds being generated by each system, using adapter’s specific to each device or technology vendor.

PSIM technology from Vidsys

VidSys is a young company that was spun out of US government systems integrator Dynamic Technology Systems in October 2005, based in Virginia, although it has a technology heritage going back some 15 years. VidSys (www.vidsys.com) is headquartered in Vienna, Virginia. VidSys already has a number of well known customers, including federal government agencies such as the treasury, veterans’ affairs and defense departments, state agencies and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

As its name would suggest, the original focus of VidSys was on the integration of video surveillance systems with its operations center management software that it developed for safety, security, military and transport organizations. Now, it is building out its flagship VidShield platform with a vision of capturing feeds from all manner of physical security devices, including cameras, whether analog, digital, PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) or wireless, codecs (encoders/decoders), digital video recorders, storage systems, sensors, including motion, RFID and chemical, and card and biometric access control systems.

With this new focus, VidSys is aiming to provide a holistic view of the physical security posture of organizations and has its sights set on the corporate market as well. This broader focus also moves it away from a focus on operations center management to the wider field of PSIM, tying information feeds from all manner of physical security devices into an organization’s existing IT network.

To do this, VidSys is expanding the number of physical security device manufacturers that it partners with, developing hardware interfaces specific for each vendor or type of device. It already has interfaces to a wide variety of video systems, as well as sensors, alarms and access control systems.

The information feeds from these devices are fed into its VidShield technology platform, where data is normalized and correlated. This platform includes intelligence engines that enable the information to be made actionable. These include an event correlation engine for capturing security event information, correlating it with expected behavior and escalating events according to their severity. Other engines allow security events to be mapped to security policies that have been set to ensure that the appropriate response is taken to security incidents and allow collaboration functions, such as desktop sharing, and VoIP and chat communications.

Once the information regarding security events has been processed and assessed, a visual mapping engine is used to turn it into actionable intelligence that is sent via TCP and system-specific APIs to shared situational awareness tools, such as video walls in operations centers and company security rooms, collaboration and communication tools, mobile devices, automated traffic management and warehouse management systems, and the GPS (global positioning system), GIS (geographic information system) and Google Earth networks.

With these capabilities, the location of physical security devices such as cameras, sensors and building alarms can be overlaid onto a map to provide visual representation of a security situation as it occurs. This enables security operators to ensure that the right resources are sent to the correct location for dealing with security incidents and for ensuring that appropriate action is taken.

Conclusions

Risk management is high on the agenda of executives everywhere and this is a key driver of business investments today. This is leading to more organizations realizing the need to tie physical and IT security together to achieve a more holistic view of their security stance. Because of this, the market for converged physical and IT management technologies will see dramatic growth, reaching a peak in a three to five-year timeframe. Organizations need to start looking at how they can best leverage the security investments that they have already made, in addition to planning for the future.

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