Network security is often at the top of most network administrators’ minds, but physical security plays an important role in keeping the lid on intruders as well.
Cisco Systems Inc. has improved its network-based physical security platform to tighten up the protection it offers, and to offer a set of tools to help administrators ensure the network can bear the load.
In addition, video support for devices that run Apple Corp.’s iOS operating system, including the iPhones and iPads has been added, and support for Android-powered devices is only months away.
Cisco’s IP Interoperability and Communications System (IPICS), a dispatch and incident-respond system that can link to a number of radio and voice systems, now links to iPhones and iPads, giving staff in the filed the ability to send video back to an operations centre, and supervisors the ability to forward video clips to staff.
“That allows first responders [with enabled smart phones] to have full communications and interoperability from the device and be able to access and send video and other types of rich media when they’re on the scene of an incident,” David Hsieh, Cisco’s vice-president of emerging technologies, told reporters at a briefing.
IPICS already supports Windows 7 smart phones.
Support for Android devices will come shortly after Cisco launches its Android-powered 7-inch Cius tablet, which one company staffer said is targeted for either next month or June.
IPICS connects to Cisco’s Video Surveillance Manager and Physical Access Manager (PAM).
Hsieh said said that version 1.3 of PAM, which controls video surveillance cameras, door readers, locks and biometric devices, now has improved protection in case the network goes down, meaning the enterprise isn’t paralyzed.
Usually, security credentials used by PAM are stored in a server in a data centre for protection. However, he said, a network disruption can cause problems for industries that get deliveries to warehouses or fuel depots. Drivers often rely on swipe cards called TWICs (for transfer station worker identity cards) not only for identity verification to drive onto the property but also to get information on which warehouse door or pump to use. A network problem mean these deliveries couldn’t be made.
The latest version of PAM allows the software to link to locally-stored information to allow such activities to continue securely, Hsieh said.
It also means PAM’s anti-passback capability – which prevents staffers from passing a security card back over a turnstile – is still enabled.
In addition, PAM can now link video surveillance cameras to motion or other sensors to broaden its protection.
Because video surveillance eats up so much bandwidth, Cisco said also it is making white papers available to guide companies and system integrators in implementations.
In addition, the equipment maker is including its IPSLA embedded traffic simulator
In Cisco 3000-series Catalyst switches to allow enterprises to simulate video surveillance loads on their networks.
Cisco is clearly aiming PAM and its elements at large organizations. To support the announcement customers who are deploying it were made available at the news conference, including the Swiss canton of Vaud, which hopes to have it oversee the security in 2,000 buildings, and Georgetown University, which hopes to have a unified video and sensor security system not only across its Washington, D.C. campus, but also campuses in Italy, Turkey and Quatar.
Canadian companies aren’t very interested in network-based physical access security systems, said Robert Beggs, president of Burlington, Ont.-based consulting firm Digital Defence. They prefer point systems that solve a particular problem – such as improving front door security – and integrate with what they already have, he said.
His company tests corporate physical and logical security systems. It doesn’t install solutions and doesn’t have vendor partners.
A solution using best of breed hardware and applications can be made to give similar capabilities to Cisco’s PAM, he said.
But he credits Cisco with putting together a turn-key package and making available information to help administrators determine if their networks can handle IP-based surveillance systems.
Unfortunately, companies don’t worry enough about their physical security, he said. Logical security, such as network and application passwords, is often looked after, but it can be defeated by a staffer who holds a front door open for a stranger – especially if the stranger has a USB key with spyware and can get to a PC.
“In the last two years I have compromised more than 90 per cent of our clients using physical security methods.”
Technology, he adds, isn’t necessarily the solution to physical security problems. “It’s not technology that improves security,” he said, “it’s the mind frame of the people that have to use it.”