IT security gets physical

A steady beat of advances in information technology and miniaturization is sparking dramatic changes in how government handles physical security requirements. Digital video networks and computerized identity cards are among a host of new tools covered in this report that are helping officials better secure government facilities, transportation centers and high-profile public events.

Although general IT innovation has spurred most of these developments, the acquisition, operation and management of physical security systems have been largely independent of traditional IT systems and cybersecurity measures, which have evolved as a specialized discipline.

However, by breaking down the wall between the two areas, common skills and infrastructure, like standard IP networks, can be used more efficiently, leading to cost savings. Further, a more integrated approach can allow for a variety of new applications not previously possible.

For example, with a centralized security event management system, security officials could be alerted if an employee who passed through a smart card-based secure building entrance in the morning attempts to log on to the agency's virtual private network from an outside location later that day. Meanwhile, the system could retrieve video captured by a digital camera positioned at the entrance to assist officials in identifying the person who entered using that ID card.

Numerous issues must be addressed before this kind of integration can be achieved. For example, is it best to create a single office to handle both physical and IT security tasks, and to what extent is it prudent to share common infrastructure? Also, what kinds of IT service-level guarantees are needed to ensure that critical physical security systems do not suffer the all too common outages that afflict office IT systems?

The basic building blocks of an integrated security system — many of which are featured in this report -- are available now, but the work needed to get the parts to work together has just begun.

Read more:

Biometrics takes on physical access
Agencies have multiple ID options for bolstering building security

Reality television
Digital video technology joins the physical security arsenal

Security on demand
New technology tools come to the high-stakes world of special-event security


  • innovation (Sergey Nivens/

    VA embraces procurement challenges at scale

    Steve Kelman applauds the Department of Veterans Affairs' ambitious attempt to move beyond one-off prize-based contests to combat veteran suicides more effectively.

  • big data AI health data

    Where did the ideas for shutdowns and social distancing come from?

    Steve Kelman offers another story about hero civil servants (and a good president).

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.