Converging physical and cyber security: the road ahead in 2022

Last year saw a record number of data and ransomware attacks in Northern Ireland.
Tony McEwan

THE evolution of security has, in recent years seen a gradual merging of physical and cyber, with the days of measures such as access control or surveillance being applied in isolation, separate from digital systems now numbered.

With 2022 representing ESS’s 48th year in the security industry, the scale of progression and innovation of products and practices within the digital realm has been exponential. Nearly every commercial customer we work with today has both cyber-security and physical security systems in place, protecting their premises, staff, data, and many more business-critical assets.

As we enter a new year, we encourage and expect to see further integrations of cyber and physical security among businesses in this region, and that is hugely positive, particularly where customer data, prevention of scams, and transferral of assets is concerned. Last year saw a record number of data and ransomware attacks in Northern Ireland, and these attacks have consequences for every aspect of a business’s operation.

Cyber-security is now the top concern when it comes to overall security for local business, replacing more traditional criminal acts such as robbery and damage of premises. But it’s important to note just how intertwined physical and cyber-crimes are in today’s economy, and how crucial a robust and converged approach is to mitigate both simultaneously.

With many of the applications, systems, and platforms we employ for security practices now increasingly mobile and cloud-based, achieving compliance for sensitive business or personal data without an integrated physical and cyber-security strategy is increasingly challenging.

The importance of cyber and physical security convergence cannot be overlooked, with its application delivering the ability to restrict or permit access to certain spaces, along with the capability to protect IP networks and limit access to sensitive data. Physical security protects cyber-security by limiting access to the spaces where data is stored, and the reverse is also increasingly true in the industries of today.

With so many physical security components now connected to the internet, including; smartphones, alarms, and CCTV, new targets are emerging for hackers. Criminals are evolving their operations and will exploit weaknesses in either physical or technological security structures to achieve their goals. A robust and integrated cyber-security strategy can safeguard the sensitive data that physical systems retain, in turn enabling these components to be treated as one rather than as separate business strands.

Looking ahead, there are a number of steps local businesses can and should take in 2022 to ensure a seamless convergence of physical and cyber security. These include:

Detection and managed response, installation of access control, monitoring of sensitive data, and securing key entry points, for components like barriers or doors, to prevent unauthorised individuals from gaining access. We already know the significant role that applications like AI will play in this burgeoning tech trend, leveraging technologies like facial recognition.

Another vital step is multi-factor authentication for work devices, again converging physical and cyber-security. Of course, this should be backed up with systematic data storage and accompanying policies, along with contemporary security training for staff.

By merging cyber and physical security strategy, businesses will be better equipped to navigate the modern security landscape, enhancing their resiliency, and preparations to identify, prevent, and respond to threats. We’re already seeing this through the interconnectivity of IP security-based systems such as sensors, cameras, and electronic locking systems, with physical security now well-positioned to leverage big data analytics such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify and respond to workplace crises.

Applying physical and cyber-security functions in silos makes business attacks more likely to occur and can lead to impacts such as exposure of sensitive information, economic damage, loss, and even disruption to critical national infrastructures as we saw last year. A converged approach to security will be a key trend for business in 2022. Cyber-security is now a key component in complimenting and enhancing physical business security.

Tony McEwan is director at Belfast security and fire safety business ESS

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