Physical Security Has a Lot of Catching Up to Do

The transformation we need: merging the network operations center with the physical security operations center.

Peter George, Chief Executive Officer at Evolv Technology

October 28, 2020

4 Min Read

I joined the physical security space from the cybersecurity and networking world. Coming from that background, it has been fascinating to see how far behind the physical security world is when compared with those two sectors. It often feels like the land that time forgot.

But I have no regrets. Why? Because I have seen this movie before, and I like how it ends. Let me explain.

In 2005 — what now feels like the early days of cybersecurity — Palo Alto Networks showed up with a fundamentally different approach that shook up the landscape. At the time, customers were buying a new black box for every application and function. The boxes didn't talk to each other to coordinate in any particular way. Managing them all was a nightmare, and it also created vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit.

In a time when firewalls were all about ports and protocols, Palo Alto could see applications. It assigned application priorities in the firewall itself. The company's integrated platform pulled multiple functions into a single environment. It was faster, easier to manage, and more secure. Customers loved it.

When I look at the physical security world today, I see a similar situation to the fractured firewalls and networking environment of the mid-2000s of cybersecurity. When we arrive at a concert or sporting event, we endure a security queue of indefinite duration. After that, we dump the contents of our packets — I mean pockets — into a bucket. If we have a bag with us, we surrender it for deep packet inspection. Then we walk through an ancient analog metal detector that can't tell the difference between a gun and a prosthetic knee. If we're unlucky, we are routed off for an invasive pat down. After the security gauntlet, we queue up to have our tickets validated, and fight our way to our seats. We endure this nonsense for each event, even if we own season tickets that have been in the family since the Roosevelt administration. It's madness.

In the physical security world, many systems are analog and don't get smarter over time. In cybersecurity, everything is digital by default and often enhanced by modern machine learning. In physical security, every sensor — be it a weapons detector, video surveillance system, ticket processing station, or people counter — is a discrete black box that doesn't talk to other systems. Even worse, the boxes line up serially in a congested space, so each new system incrementally degrades the guest experience. In cybersecurity, integrated systems parallelize and auto-scale as needed to keep things moving. In physical security, there are almost no analytics, no objective risk-scoring methodologies, and the default solution to nearly every problem is "hire more people" or "train the people to do more and remember more."

The pandemic has brought all of these deficiencies in the physical security world to a boiling point. Actually, more like a boiling point in a pressure cooker. Guests and employees simply will not tolerate crowded lines and physical contact anymore. And now facilities need to screen for weapons as well as elevated temperature, mask compliance, and social distancing compliance. As these facilities navigate their reopenings, they are finding that "add more boxes and people" is a nonstarter.

I firmly believe that the future of physical security is touchless screening by integrated artificial intelligence-powered platforms that can look for multiple threats using multiple sensors in a single pass. It will mirror today's modern cybersecurity platforms: intelligent, connected, precise, and adaptive. It will be invasive for intruders while being barely noticed by valued visitors.

Just imagine how cool it would be if the same system that is scanning for threats could also process tickets, guide visitors to their seats, and give season ticket holders and other trusted visitors the premium experience they deserve. Would that require working across our artificial organizational boundaries? Yes! Would it require us to reimagine business processes and design them with the visitor experience in mind? Again, emphatically, yes! That's what digital transformation is all about.

The physical security world has a lot of catching up to do in this digital transformation. But when physical security is transformed, it will finally be possible to fully merge the network operations center (NOC) with the physical security operations center (SOC). We'll know were getting there when the NOC and the SOC are in the same room and the occupants have total situational awareness of all threats, whether they manifest themselves as bits or atoms, or both. The situational awareness of the people in the combined SNOC might even include key visitor experience metrics. They'll think about both risks and opportunities, both threats and key business results.

I look forward to that day. Let's get on with it.

About the Author(s)

Peter George

Chief Executive Officer at Evolv Technology

Peter George has a decades-long track record in leading cybersecurity companies and building disruptive technology startups into market leaders. He joined Evolv Technology in February 2019 as chief commercial officer and was promoted to chief executive officer (CEO) in January 2020. Earlier in his career, as chairman, president, and CEO with cybersecurity pioneer Fidelis Security Systems, George guided the firm through substantial growth that prompted its acquisition by General Dynamics. He currently serves on the board at DDoS attack protection provider Corero Network Security, and previously was a board member at Flashpoint, a forward-leaning cyber and physical security threat intelligence company. In addition to cybersecurity, George has led the domestic and international commercialization operations at multiple software and networking companies as president, board member, and investor.

Keep up with the latest cybersecurity threats, newly discovered vulnerabilities, data breach information, and emerging trends. Delivered daily or weekly right to your email inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights