Enhancing security and operations with intelligent access control

Repeated, high-profile security incidents targeting the utilities industry, such as the attempted poisoning of a water treatment system in Florida, or the recent hack of the Colonial Pipeline, illustrate just how diverse the modern threatscape has become. Terrorists, hacktivists, criminals and even hostile foreign intelligence services have all become very real threats to organisations that manage critical national infrastructure. The water industry needs to shore up its defences.

By leveraging security tools, such as wireless smart locks and advanced access control, organisations can plug gaps in their defences while also tackling common operating challenges and driving efficiencies across their operations.

Access Control

The geographies of vast, disparate water infrastructure mean effective security can be a real challenge. For example, the reality today for most workers trying to access water treatments works is that they will be using brass padlocks and keys. The problem with this is that you have absolutely no audit trail detailing who has been there and what they have done. You have no way of detecting a possible break-in until that specific site is next physically inspected.

Furthermore, employees will either spend significant amounts of time travelling to and from a site to pick up and return keys, or security is compromised by having a large number of keys in circulation, increasing the chances of one being lost or stolen. Add in the number of third parties likely to also require access for inspection, servicing or maintenance, and compliance processes quickly become a major headache.

Incorporating intelligent keys and locks, then managing them within a centralised access control system resolves these problems. This digital approach creates a holistic view of security, allowing staff to monitor dozens of sites from a single centralised location. Put simply, keys are considered as ‘cardholders’ and the associated locks as ‘doors’ in the access control system.

Furthermore, by integrating access control into the wider security platform it enables a much higher degree of visibility across operations. For instance, when staff or a contractor use their digital key, it can be configured to also trigger a video camera – from there, the footage can be added to the recording log, giving staff a more detailed audit trail of who’s been on site. It makes everyone more accountable, simplifies demonstration of compliance with industry regulations, and streamlines keyholder management.

An ever-changing security landscape

A possible objection to the use of smart locks is the additional cybersecurity vulnerabilities they could introduce to the network. It’s certainly true that they must be properly deployed, secured and regularly updated in order to prevent them being used as a possible entry point. However, it would be naïve to think that sticking with the status quo is any more secure.

The answer is to stop drawing a distinction between physical and cyber security, instead addressing it as one sphere that the facility manager and IT security teams both feed into.

As the water industry continues to modernise and adopt “smarter infrastructure”, it’s vital that everybody collaborates to adopt innovative new technologies that enhance rather than compromise the security of the industry as a whole. Doing so will help protect vital infrastructure, such as dams and water treatment plants, from the growing array of threats they now face.

Steve Green

Regional Sales Manager at Genetec