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Physical, Logical Security Worlds Continue Slow Convergence

'Guards, gates, and guns' organizations say cybersecurity has become a top priority

Say the word "security" in most large corporations, and you'll generally get two very different responses: One is a group of IT technicians in the data center; the other is a group of armed guards.

Historically, these two groups of a common name have barely spoken to each other, except on the way through a locked door or at an all-hands staff meeting. But as enterprises begin to look more closely at their defenses and rethink their security strategies, the separation between the two groups has begun to dissolve.

Last week, the leading professional association in the world of physical security, ASIS, and the leading professional association in the world of IT ("logical") security, (ISC)2, held their annual meetings concurrently for the first time in Orlando, Fla. The message: physical and logical security are beginning to converge.

"A lot of organizations are coming to a realization that security is security," said Hord Tipton, executive director of (ISC)2, in an interview at the combined conference. "The appliances that are used for physical security are all IP-based -- they're all on the network. If I lose my smartphone, is that a physical security problem or an IT security problem? The lines are getting blurry."

Marene Allison, vice president of worldwide information security at Johnson & Johnson, agreed. "At its heart, security is about understanding and limiting risk," she said. "Most CEOs don't make a distinction between physical risk and logical risk -- it's about limiting all risk to the business."

The idea of combining forces is still a new idea to most physical and logical security organizations. At the conference, (ISC)2 revealed survey results that indicate the responsibility for physical security and data security is shared in only about 30 percent of organizations.

But studies conducted by both ASIS and (ISC)2 also indicate that online breaches have become the greatest concern for the majority of professionals in both the physical security and IT security worlds. With so many breaches occurring in recent months, both organizations are putting a high priority on keeping bad guys away from sensitive data.

"For both sides of the house, people coming in over the fence is not as much of a concern as people coming in over the Internet," said Ray O'Hara, president of ASIS International. A chief issue is the rapid disappearance of the lines between "home" and "office," he observed.

"Today's employee wants to do anything they want, no matter where they are at the time," O'Hara said. "That could mean doing personal tasks at work, or work tasks at home."

Dennis Pollutro, CEO of mobile security tool vendor AirPatrol, agreed. "For a long time, the job of the physical security people in some organizations was to basically stop all cell phones from getting into the building, even if it meant searching visitors," he said. "Now more and more organizations are beginning to see that they can't stop them all from coming in. The key is to build an enforceable policy that limits what they can do."

Bringing the physical and logical organizations together often begins with a security incident, Allison said. "The physical security organization is usually the one that has the relationships with the legal department and law enforcement, so they come looking to the IT organization for help with forensics," she observed. "The physical side often has case management software to help with an investigation, so the IT side looks for help from them as well. And they find that they have a lot of ways they can work together."

Combining physical and logical security can also help enterprises to save money, Tipton observed, noting that the state of Michigan recently combined its physical and logical operations in a move to improve efficiency and save money.

Allison noted that the cost-saving factor could also be a reason why some security organizations resist the idea of combining physical and logical groups.

"The first barrier is often a worry that if you combine the two organizations, there will be jobs lost," she said. "The people from each side may be concerned that they can't learn the other side's technologies and practices. But in most cases, there aren't any job losses, and the groups work better together than they did separately. You end up with two plus two equals five, rather than two plus two equals three."

Physical security organizations might benefit from better intelligence-collecting tools that are commonly used by the cyber side, such as security information and event management (SIEM) and log-analysis tools, Pollutro noted. By the same token, the physical side sometimes can teach IT a thing or two about continuous monitoring because physical security people are accustomed to tracking video screens and other data collection tools all day long, he said.

The two organizations could also decide to combine their security-awareness initiatives, Allison stated. "Some of their training messages are so similar that it can be a waste of budget to spend time repeating them," she said. "By combining their training programs, they can deliver twice the message using the same dollars."

But the big issue, Pollutro said, is that attackers are increasingly finding new ways to use blended threats to steal the data they want. Some attackers infiltrate a company by bringing in mobile devices -- or by infecting employees' devices -- that can then launch proximity attacks on other devices inside the enterprise.

"Defending against an attack that uses both physical and logical methods means you need a defense that encompasses both physical and logical security," Pollutro said. "That's the way things are moving."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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