Converging Security Technologies
- By Michael Fickes
- August 1st, 2009
A trend called convergence is all the rage today in the commercial security world. Convergence aims to integrate various forms of security: the physical security of people, physical facilities and network facilities; the security of information flowing across the network; business continuity, emergency response and disaster recovery.
Commercial security experts now look at these separate security requirements as a single, converged and holistic undertaking.
Why is convergence an important trend? Does it convergence to K-12 security? How is advancing technology making it easier to pursue convergence benefits?
Why Is It Important to K-12 Security?
Security experts agree that physical security and logical or network security interrelate naturally, making it unwise not to acknowledge the existence of convergence. If physical security fails to lock down a computer server room in a commercial installation, for instance, a hacker could physically enter a room and possibly break into the network. A K-12 school district must deal with similar physical and logical security relationships in its computer labs as well as in behind the scenes network infrastructure.
Another crucial point about convergence shows up as more and more physical security devices operate over network cable runs. Vulnerable network security can reduce the effectiveness of physical security by compromising those devices.
What if a hurricane cuts power to several schools within the district? The network and its communications capabilities will shut down, along with physical security devices protecting the facilities. The security staffer responsible for business continuity must understand both the physical and digital sides of security. “These systems cannot go down,” says Robert Lang, CPP. “Not only do central physical security functions rely on the computer network, if the network goes down, you cannot notify people about the emergency.”
As assistant vice president for strategic security and safety at Kennesaw State University, Lang consults with K-12 districts in his region on physical and logical security matters. “We’ve been working on redundant back up systems, and virtually every K-12 school in Cobb County, Ga., is working in the same direction,” he says.
Converging the various segments of security into a single entity also cuts costs. Consider for instance the idea of hanging physical security devices on the school district network. Today, surveillance cameras, access control card readers and other physical security devices can hook up with the existing network cabling — cutting costs by eliminating the need for prohibitively expensive coaxial cable runs.
Cameras, video analytics, software as a service and mass notification systems represent new technology made possible by the converging of conventional physical security technology and network technology.
Today’s Internet protocol (IP) surveillance cameras use existing networks to move video from cameras to monitors in the security center, illustrating the cost-saving power of convergence. In other words, wherever a school district’s network goes, video surveillance security can follow.
What about network bandwidth? Don’t video files require too much bandwidth? Isn’t it impractical to put all that video up on the network? Won’t it slow down or even stop other necessary network traffic? It would, if video were flowing across the network 24 hours per day, but the new camera technology solves this problem, too.
Some IP cameras include video analytics software embedded on chips in the camera. Video analytics solve the bandwidth problem. “Intelligent video or video analytics are the wave of the future,” Lang says. “You can program in what actions you want notified about, and the camera only sends those clips. That saves bandwidth and recording storage space. A security officer reviews the video clips identified by the technology, if it isn’t important, the system erases it.”
In effect, analytics make it possible for the camera to monitor the video instead of a person. Studies, notes Lang, indicate that even experienced security officers cannot concentrate adequately on video for more than 12 minutes or so at a time.
Video analytics system can identify and alarm on about two-dozen specific behaviors. By analyzing individual pixels in a frame, analytics can distinguish between a vehicle and a person. A person is smaller and has fewer pixels than a vehicle. In addition, the shape of a person has a different pattern of pixels than a vehicle. Starting there, a video analytics system can be set it alarm on a vehicle or a person that has been stationary too long. It can be set to alarm when a vehicle or person or persons show up in an area in the evening or night — when no one should be in that area. It can spot people who are running (and can tell other cameras in the system to follow the running person). The system can identify a fight by sensing the speed that two or more people, who are close together, move.
This highly converged system can then use the network to send video to security officers at a security station as well as on patrol. Patrolling officers can carry hand held devices capable of receiving emails with attached video clips.
Software as a Service
Internet protocol network technology makes it possible to build and offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) security systems. Suppose a district has a couple doors per school that it would like the faculty to be able to access at will. A full-featured card access control system might cost too much. But today, SaaS provides the most expensive piece of access control systems, the head-end software by way of remote Websites through subscription pricing. A school district need only equip the doors they are interested in controlling with locks and card readers. Convergence has made it possible to connect the card reader to the district network, which in turn, connects by way of the Internet to the SaaS head-end system. The district must also provide cards to users.
The SaaS system manager simply logs onto the SaaS Website, logs in and clicks the appropriate buttons to set permissions for the access cards. One administrator can open the controlled door at any school in the district at any time. But this teacher can only access the door at his or her school during off hours.
Door hardware for SaaS access control systems might cost $1,000 to $2,500 per door, depending on your needs.
Mass Notification Systems
Tragic shootings at Columbine High School and a number of colleges in recent years have spurred security technology designers to create mass notification systems that take advantage of convergence. “Mass notification is the hot item today,” Lang says.
Columbine and other campus shootings have created a need for mass notification systems. “We have an alert system that will send automated messages to 30,000 people by email, cell phone call and SMS text,” Lang says. “We do this by accessing a Website that provides the service.”
Lang goes on to note the importance of redundancy in mass notification systems. The SaaS system that Lang subscribes to has redundant, back-up systems located in Texas and California. “This is the layered approach to communications,” he says. “It is designed to ensure that we get the alerts out to everyone.
Another mass notification layer is an un-converged analog siren with a voiceover that delivers programmed messages that identify the problem and give instructions to people who are outside without a cell phone. The message might say something like “major criminal incident on campus. Shelter in.”
A third layer is a popup computer warning system for students working at computers who may not have received emails, cell phone calls or text messages.
When security technology relies on the local network and Internet, firewalls and other network security technology become all that more important. Other network security systems, of course, detect and eradicate viruses. While still other systems monitor for problems like denial of service attacks, when a hacker floods a device with so much data that it shuts down, perhaps taking the entire system with it.
While network security technology has grown more sophisticated, so have the capabilities of hackers and other bad actors. Experts caution that convergence comes with risks that suppliers must be questioned about.
For instance, when you connect a card reader to your network to take advantage of an SaaS service, it is important to ask about precautions taken to prevent hackers from accessing your system through the reader.
It is probably also important to question IP enabled camera suppliers about preventing hackers from getting into the system through the camera connection.
While convergence is definitely the future, like the old-fashioned siren and voiceover notification system that Lang uses at Kennesaw, un-converged technologies still have their uses.