The Internet of Things (IoT) has revolutionized the way that many modern organizations function by providing a reliable framework for once segregated building management and security systems to communicate within. IoT sensors and smart control modules allow teams to automate essential processes and access devices from anywhere with a secure internet connection, so it’s no surprise that these tools are popular amongst physical security teams.
Developing an effective IoT physical security system provides organizations with a number of advantages and benefits, helping to streamline security management so that on-site staff better focus on matters of importance. But effective systems must be designed intelligently.
For business owners and security personnel interested in utilizing IoT technology to improve existing physical security systems, this guide will explore the benefits of IoT physical security alongside a selection of key considerations and best practices for implementing IoT devices.
What is physical security?
Physical security refers to the protection of people, assets and property from both external and internal threats. This includes the technologies and protocols used to protect physical assets from acts of theft and vandalism, as well as those designed to protect people from dangerous or potentially harmful incidents such as break-ins, fires and natural disasters.
Common security measures and technologies used to safeguard physical assets include:
- Access control systems
- Video security cameras
- Visitor management systems
- Intrusion detection systems
- Lighting and natural access control
- Staff training and incident response plans
How are IoT devices used in physical security?
As IoT devices, sensors and hardware systems are able to transmit data over the internet to control connected machines, they’re commonly used in modern security systems to improve incident responses. Staff can program unique instructions and thresholds used to automate essential systems, ensuring that assets remain reliably protected from threats at all times.
A recent report published by The Eclipse Foundation found that IoT technologies are being adopted by global organizations at an accelerated rate. 53% of respondents were found to be currently using IoT systems, while a further 24% claimed to be planning IoT deployments.
Common examples of IoT devices used to improve physical security include motion sensors programmed to automatically trigger on-site alarms and temperature sensors instructed to activate fire suppression systems, though countless unique and multi-faceted installations can be developed thanks to IoT technology’s open-ended design. Further examples include:
Video security systems
Integrating IoT devices into existing video security systems allows admins to improve their surveillance management operations. IoT motion sensors connected to installed cameras can be used to trigger recording functions if motion is detected at unusual times, linking back to a primary video management system to ensure relevant footage is logged and secured.
As IoT devices communicate digitally, they can also be integrated alongside modern AI and machine learning software to develop informed incident responses. AI programs can detect anomalous events such as individuals carrying contraband items or suspicious movements around the property, automatically alerting staff and instructing teams to assess live footage.
To develop an effective IoT-informed video security system, compatible cameras and video recording devices must be installed. Businesses must utilize Internet Protocol (IP) cameras, Power over Ethernet (PoE) cameras or a combination of the two to ensure data can be sent between devices over a secure internet connection. IP cameras can achieve this via wireless communications, while PoE cameras must be physically connected using Ethernet cables.
Cameras must also be connected to a compatible video recording system. Teams have two options, those being Digital Video Recorders (DVR) or Network Video Recorders (NVR). In short, DVRs are designed to process footage internally, while NVRs simply store processed data for later viewing. In most cases, NVRs are best suited for IP and PoE camera systems, as these tools process footage at the camera meaning post processing will not be required.
Provided the property has internet-connected IP or PoE cameras installed, IoT devices can be integrated into the system fairly easily, with a cloud-based management platform allowing admins to view and adjust devices remotely. Teams should discuss wider factors like the use of DVR versus NVR systems, though IoT devices will be compatible with most IP cameras.
Access control locks
IoT sensors and actuators are also commonly deployed to improve existing access control systems. Typical installations will utilize IoT motion sensors to ensure that connected doors remain locked until valid credentials are presented to a nearby reader, though additional IoT integrations can be developed to create automated incident responses for specific threats.
For example, IoT pressure sensors connected to access control doors can be programmed to send remote alerts to security teams if excessive force is detected, with admins then able to view live camera feeds via a cloud-based management system to investigate the incident.
Additionally, IoT noise detection sensors can be programmed to automatically trigger wider security devices if sounds consistent with a break-in attempt are detected. Teams can then configure a number of unique responses such as alarms activating, deadlocks engaging and remote alerts being sent to security personnel, or to local authorities, requesting a response.
Installed IoT sensors are often used to refine building management systems and ensure that businesses are complying with general health and safety regulations. IoT sensors can warn security staff when specific locations are at risk of becoming overcrowded, allowing teams to open alternative entry routes or block access to certain areas to safely navigate bottlenecks.
IoT environmental sensors can also be used to instruct the operation of installed HVAC systems, with temperature, humidity and air quality monitoring devices programmed to adjust system settings in line with industry-specific requirements. In addition, IoT sensors can help to improve energy efficiency to help organizations meet sustainability targets.
IoT-informed occupancy management systems will also provide several logistical benefits, including real-time monitoring of on-site facilities to help staff optimize scheduling systems. Management teams can quickly access scheduling systems to check if rooms are occupied, with IoT occupancy sensors providing accurate real-time information regarding availability.
Considerations for IoT physical security systems
As IoT physical security systems are configured to transmit data over the internet, trusted cybersecurity protections must be in place to prevent malicious actors compromising IoT devices and gaining unauthorized access to physical systems. All communications between IoT hardware and wider management systems must be encrypted to prevent data breaches.
Research published by McKinsey Global Institute suggests issues regarding cybersecurity are a major concern for organizations wishing to adopt IoT technologies, with 30% of survey respondents naming this as their top concern. Of these respondents, 40% claim they would increase the deployment of IoT systems if cybersecurity concerns were resolved, indicating the importance of investing in comprehensive cybersecurity protections and software tools.
In addition, advanced password protections such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be applied to the login procedures for all active systems. By ensuring that multiple unique credentials are required to access, adjust and view installed IoT physical security devices, security staff can mitigate the risks associated with sophisticated cyber attacks and threats.
When installing IoT physical security devices, teams must make sure to remove any existing connectivity hardware such as optical ports or unused test connections. Hackers may target IoT devices with unsecured connections to gain unauthorized digital access, so it’s essential that these ports are disabled and only devices featuring tampering protections are selected.
Additionally, security staff must ensure all IoT hardware is properly configured before being connected to the wider security management system. If IoT devices are accidentally left in a default setup or pairing mode, hackers may be able to infiltrate the system to gain control.
IoT physical security best practices
Organizations must ensure all active physical security equipment is monitored and logged in a detailed inventory system. Any untracked IoT devices installed on the premises or linked to the organization’s network can become a target for cyber criminals. This consideration also includes any personal devices brought into the property by staff members and contractors.
Every new network connection introduced into the wider security system represents a new exploitable surface for criminals. Teams must consider whether a wireless connection is necessary for all IoT devices. If the hardware can be effectively deployed without using a wireless connection, it’s often safer to disable this functionality to reduce the attack surface.
Updates and maintenance
New vulnerabilities and exploits are being uncovered by cybercriminals on a daily basis, security and IT staff must ensure that all internet-connected IoT devices are frequently updated and serviced to defend against novel cyber threats. This consideration should also extend to the software used to manage internal systems and all active networked devices.
Secure mobile devices
Mobile devices including smartphones, tablets and laptops are often targeted by criminals and intruders. Security staff must ensure every device connected to the network is secured when not in use, protected using MFA login credentials and monitored via real-time location software. A managed sign-out policy should also be implemented to further prevent theft.
Provide staff training
Hardware configurations and network protections will only protect IoT physical security systems if employees understand how they function. Staff must be trained how to safely operate IoT devices and avoid common threats including social engineering attacks like phishing and malware scams to ensure that the system remains inaccessible to criminals.
Installing and operating a well-designed IoT physical security system will allow businesses to strengthen existing security protocols with support from automated incident responses and remote-access functionality. IoT sensors and hardware devices can be deployed to control core security systems like security cameras and access control devices, allowing teams to view and adjust active systems remotely and develop bespoke responses to common risks.
As IoT devices are able to communicate digitally via a secure internet connection, a wide range of unique integrations can be easily developed, though teams must ensure that all devices are appropriately protected from cyber attacks using advanced encryption and MFA services. Provided these practices are followed, modern organizations can benefit from the installation of IoT physical security systems.