Closing the Gap Between Physical and Cyber Security

Enterprises across the world are continuing to embrace digital services with the aim of becoming digitally adept.

But, as these changes take place, security threats become increasingly prevalent. Companies need to be prepared for an attack – be it physical or digital – because in most cases, it isn’t if, but when, it will happen

In the latest Government Cyber Security Breach Survey, 78 percent
of businesses now rate cybersecurity as a high priority, and with good reason. After all, it is not just the potential financial impact that businesses need to protect. Increasingly, attacks can also cause irrevocable damage to a business’s physical infrastructure and threaten employee safety. In addition, a cyber breach is proven to impact relationships with third parties such as customers and suppliers, brand reputation as a whole, as well as attracting the attention of government regulators, as was the case earlier this year for British Airways.

As threats from the cyber and physical realms increase and become more intertwined with one another, corporate security teams must adopt an integrated approach to security operations. This must incorporate cyber and physical security with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, if businesses want to truly protect themselves, a combined, preventive and preemptive risk management strategy must be top of the agenda.

Physical and Cyber Security: Two sides of the same coin

The idea that physical and cyber security are becoming inextricably linked has many proof points. The attack on Ukraine’s power control centres, Prykarpattyaoblenergo, is a great example. In this instance, the hacker was able to take complete control of one of the operator’s computers and proceeded to deliberately take sixty substations offline, leaving more than 230,000 residents without power.

This ability for attackers to gain control of critical national infrastructure is a growing concern within the UK and rightly so. Once an attacker has the ability to access national infrastructure systems, they have the power to cause disruption to virtually all facets of the economy and pose a significant threat to physical security by interrupting transport systems, communications, energy supply, financial systems, water supply and even emergency services.

However, the current misalignment between physical and cyber security teams is creating gaps in the security framework of organisations across the globe. As such, the silos between security teams needs to be eradicated. If not, businesses risk leaving themselves more exposed and vulnerable to attack. When physical and cyber security teams work together, threats to an enterprise can be identified as they occur, risk can be mitigated and an event can be neutralised before it escalates to a crisis.

Tapping into the power of real-time information

With a vast amount of information available from multiple publicly available information sets worldwide, such as the dark web, IoT data and even disparate sources such as shipping forecast and flight data, corporate security teams face a seemingly impossible task of having to be constantly aware of all relevant information at all times. In addition, for enterprises to have a truly successful integrated approach to their security, it is paramount for both the physical and cyber security teams to have access to the same correct information at the right time, so they can make critical business decisions. It is here that the latest developments in AI have a key role to play.

Advanced algorithms are able to sift through the mass of publicly available information, detect events in real-time and uncover pertinent insights as scenarios unravel. Physical and cyber security teams can then be alerted to the same valuable updates simultaneously, creating a 360-degree view of an emerging threat. In turn, the teams can seamlessly work in tandem to respond with speed, efficiency and precision.

To put this into context, in March 2019 a ransomware attack on Norsk Hydro, one of Europe’s leading aluminum producers, caused their network to fail. This resulted in a loss of approximately $50 million. A social media user posted about the company’s website
being down and in real-time professionals across all aspects of the business were alerted. It was then through continuous alerts that Norsk Hydro identified the version of ransomware that was behind the outage. Subsequently, companies in every business sector
were able to quickly learn how their own systems could be at risk and adapt their response accordingly.

In scenarios such as this, having access to real-time information enables security professionals from both the physical and cyber realms to not only be better informed of events, but to also act quickly, in unison, against emerging threats.

Forming a United Front

The cyber and physical security threats facing any business are increasingly overlapping and this is only set to continue. Consequently, enterprises must adopt a unified approach to mitigate the unique risks posed by today’s interconnected business landscape.

In order to create a successfully integrated security strategy, enterprises need to embrace advances in technologies, such as real-time alerting powered by AI, that can unlock and quickly make sense of the sheer amount of data now flowing through a network. In
this way, corporate security teams can have a much more comprehensive and holistic view of the security landscape as events unfold.

This heightened awareness and increased efficiency ensures security professionals are equipped with the actionable insights to prepare and protect businesses against the ever-emerging and complex threats. With a correct approach to security in place, companies
are in a better position to minimise the risk of financial loss and maintain their reputation.

About the Author

Tim Willis, Director, EMEA Corporate Risk at Dataminr. An experienced security manager with a track record of leading teams through transition and building strong relationships with colleagues and customers at all levels. An ability to prioritise multiple demands combined with attention to detail and an eye for accuracy to achieve customer focused results. Experience of building successful multicultural teams, leading with a pragmatic, empathetic approach, while able to remain calm under pressure, think clearly and give decisive direction in challenging circumstances. 

Featured image: ©Toh Kheng Guan