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The Internet of Things and its effects on physical security

The Internet of Things and its effects on physical security
Discussions about IoT often center on what IoT might mean to future technologies, product development and sales, without really defining it, ironically enough.
Over the years there has been a lot of talk about the Internet of Things (IoT), but is there an exact definition for the term? And for security players, how does it change the future of physical security?

Per Björkdahl, Chairman of the ONVIF Steering Committee and Director of Business Development at Axis Communications provides further insight on IoT and how it impacts physical security.

What is the Internet of Things?
Discussions about IoT often center on what Internet of Things (IoT) might mean to future technologies, product development and sales, without really defining it, ironically enough. Some contend an IoT already exists, made up by multiple integrations of mobile, network and web-based applications. Others believe that the term IoT only refers to the connection of objects to other objects. Generally speaking, IoT indicates that many different objects and systems are connected together and managed through a single user interface. IoT devices typically use a common infrastructure and use that infrastructure for communication.

The advantage of the IoT approach is the ability to access data coming from multiple devices and/or systems simultaneously and in real time, filtered through a single user interface. In addition to real time monitoring, the software of IoT installations often provides analysis of multiple data streams for operational and business intelligence.

What are some of the broad concerns surrounding the Internet of Things?
There is general concern about the security of the information exchanged between devices and networks, which really is at the heart of the IoT concept. With IoT, many different objects and systems are connected together, which creates new access points where the system could be compromised. Once information leaves the safety and security of a finite, secure network, security integrity becomes a greater challenge.

The vulnerability of IoT devices and the potential for poor security practices, covert data collection, loss of control of devices and invasion of privacy are all concerning to the technology sector at large, as well.

What about the physical security industry? Are the security concerns around IoT the same?
With the physical security industry, IoT is a bit more nuanced. Our core business is making and keeping people, places and things safe, so as we develop products with IoT capabilities, we have to exercise caution and maintain the high standards that currently exist in our industry today. The integrity of the security products we provide to the market cannot and should not be compromised in the name of IoT. As more data is moved and shared between devices and clients, security integrity becomes more important than ever.

Why are standards like ONVIF’s important in the development and future of IoT?
Many in the technology industry at large, including ONVIF, feel standards can be used by IoT as it evolves. The Internet of Things is built on the adoption of a defined, uniform commonality in communication. In order for IoT to function, different kinds of sensors or data points need to be able to communicate back to a server or software.

ONVIF’s specifications do this for IP-based physical security products: they define standards for communication. It stands to reason then that ONVIF could facilitate, for example, multiple cameras from different manufacturers communicating with a VMS, PSIM or other IP-based management system. ONVIF and other standards establish the common language between different countries, if you will.

It’s also telling that ONVIF’s video and access control specifications have been adopted by the IEC. The significance of this is that ONVIF’s specifications are becoming the de facto standards for video and access control, as defined by standards groups like the IEC. That means that if an IoT deployment that is IEC compliant includes video and physical access control, then it will use ONVIF’s specifications.

What are the specific challenges for the industry around IoT?
The greatest challenge for physical security is to provide increased operability and ease of use for end users while maintaining the integrity of the security that we offer as an industry. That’s somewhat of a tightrope to walk. Manufacturers and system integrators are paying more and more attention to security, but we still have more work to do.

We have to do a better job of protecting access to devices like cameras or door controllers by improving overall network security and the security of the devices themselves. It’s not a question of if the Internet of Things will materialize at this point because it already has.

The physical security industry has to step up the pace of increasing security measures and better educating end users and IT departments on how to safeguard their physical security systems in their day-to-day operations.

Is ONVIF working on an IoT standard?
Other standards groups are already at work on an IoT standard. IEEE, which is the world’s largest technology-based professional association, is developing IoT standards for several technology-based industries. IEEE’s P2413 working group, a multi-industry group within the organization, is charged with reducing industry fragmentation with a common architectural framework, and with building upon the commonalities it finds between segments of the IoT. Alliances like Open Internet Consortium (OIC), the THREADGroup, Zigbee and ZWave are developing certification specifications and considering IoT standards as well.

The success of IoT is predicated on manufacturers and developers working together to create baseline standards that allow physical security systems to work with other physical security devices and with other devices outside the realm of physical security. The interoperability gained through these collaborations lays the foundation of IoT.

ONVIF does this within physical security by offering greater interoperability between IP-based physical security products, which could play a role in the IoT market and its development. I think the next step for ONVIF could be to address system-to-system interoperability between video management systems, which is just one part of the broader Internet of Things.
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