Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Securing Utilities

Securing a nation's utilities has become very important over the last few years. Here, we'll review The Why, The What and start getting into The How of securing an organizations utilities.

THE WHY and THE WHAT - Reviewing just the MAJOR Utilities, and what impact could be felt.

Water and Sewage - Not many think about Water and Wastewater as a significant target. However, in many cases a city's reservoir holds only up to 3 days of reserve for an entire community. Of course this means if any significant damage were imposed upon the major pumping stations, the community would be without water. It only takes a matter of days before lack of water can cause significant impact on health and social interests.Of course "significant damage" could be something as simple as injecting insecticides in key locations in the system, or something as dramatic as a bomb destroying an entire plant.

Electricity and Natural Gas - We have all grown accustomed to the warmth and cooling these two utilities provide to our homes and work spaces. Significant impact on either can certainly result in lack of creature comfort, but consider also the potential for toxic and physical damages to those living anywhere near the plants.

Telecommunications - Recent natural catastrophes have shown how difficult it can be to coordinate emergency efforts without telecommunications. Land lines, cellular, and even satellite communication can be disrupted during significant events. Without proper preparation, emergency response teams are effectively working with a severe handicap. Telecommunications is also interesting because there are some relatively unknown attacks performed upon these services without the general public knowing. Domestic and International Terrorism are typically referred to in Risk Analyses, but many overlook the more common occurrence of Copper Theft and weekend sharpshooters from local population.

THE HOW - Reviewing how organizations might approach Security for Utilities

First, establish a Physical Perimeter. The easiest, and usually most convenient way to do this is to build a fence. Whether a large, plant-like installation, or a small pumping or transfer station, the logic is the same - install a fence to restrict entry. With new technologies, an alternative or supplement may also be considered - a Virtual Fence, using CCTV cameras and an alerting system. Specifically in small, remote locations where building fences may not be an effective use of budget, or where existing fences may need additional security practices applied, the end user may consider using IP CCTV, Alarm and Access Control to protect the sites. Strategically located cameras, integrated access control, wireless communications and Digital Video Recording Platforms can be built to establish a highly effective alerting tool, which can be monitored and manged centrally. Upon illegal entry into a restricted area, a system can respond with a multitude of tasks:

- Automatically upload multiple snapshots to a central monitoring station, and/ or law enforcement

- Automatically enunciate an on-site alert, notifying the potential aggressor that pictures have been sent to local authorities

- Automatically trigger additional security procedures, such as alerting local law enforcement or move PTZ Cameras to defined presets

In larger, plant-like environments, additional cameras with perimeter analytics (like tripwires, objects approaching, object left behind, and object taken away) would certainly provide increased security for a very reasonable financial investment. As well, it might not be financially prudent to trench up the ground to add new cameras, access control, or even just new buildings. This has been an issue in the past considering all the logistics involved. But using new wireless technologies, simple point-to-point and point-to-multi-point platforms provide a means by which networking (video, alarms, audio, web, LAN/ WAN) may be added quickly and cost-effectively. In fact, wireless applications, if designed and implemented correctly, provide a tremendous advantage in time and overall cost when considering traditional means of networking. This is one of the reasons why in most buildings today wireless networks are installed (whether we see them or not, they are there).

Once Physical Perimeter is established, next consider Critical Assets and how they might be protected. In a Water/ Wastewater Plant, Critical Assets may be define by the larger pumps and control stations inside buildings, or by overflow channels where a person might approach and inject hazardous materials into the Water System. Integrated Access Control and CCTV cameras at strategically located can accomplish most deterrent as well as prosecutorial effect.

In Electric, Natural Gas and Telecommunications Stations and Plants, the issue starts to become more "cyber" in nature. Providing security to those Critical Assets inside the building and on a network become very important. On May 29, 2009, President Obama presented a stirring speech referencing the many risks and challenges we as a country face in securing these Critical Assets. Many federal efforts are being put in place to provide additional budgetary dollars for this purpose. Included in this will be dollars for adding physical security to protect the cyber interests. Very good news to those impacted so severely by the recent economic downturns. Still, providing fully integrated systems of Access Control, Alarm and CCTV become incredibly important. No more is it acceptable to simply add a few cameras or Access Control points to hopefully be deterrents to criminals. By integrating Access Control, Alarm and CCTV, the organization can be made aware immediately of changes and respond appropriately with accuracy. The organization can also manage these system over readily available IP Networks if the correct solution is applied.

There are many different items to be considered when securing utilities. Fundamentally, those making the decisions should consider organizations experienced in just that and have a Risk Assessment performed to give an adequate well thought out plan.

Happy Protecting...

Security Caffeine

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