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September 2006 Access Control & Identity Management

New to IP CCTV? Here are some useful facts for you to consider.

Security and reliability equivalent or better than analog systems

Security in traditional video solutions is created by the very closed loop systems that are integral to them. A networked solution, by definition, is not a closed circuit because its hardware can be seen by any other networked device (with permission). This is not unknown by those that install and employ enterprise IT systems in the government, financial and corporate sectors of our economy who continually transmit information via the Internet.

In fact, modern IP encryption technology, firewalls and a variety of other advanced tools secure today's Internet and area network transmissions. With appropriate measures and modern anti-hacking technologies, a networked IP video solution can actually be more secure than a traditional analog video surveillance system.

For example, in a traditional video system, any camera can be tapped into directly. On an IP system, all cameras are running on the same backbone in an encrypted format, making discerning a particular signal or decrypting it virtually impossible.

To use IP, users do not need to discard the rest of their systems

Despite a spate of recent digital video product introductions - wide dynamic range cameras that process each pixel of a frame to surmount lighting problems of shade and brightness and rugged PTZ camera domes offering dry nitrogen pressurisation for protection in harsh environments, and many others - the currently installed video system of today remains primarily one of analog-based components.

Its cameras and domes have no IP-connectivity. Video switching products continue to be limited to commercial and local site applications and only interface with similarly proprietary branded products. Although digital video recorders provide analog to digital conversion, they act as a local site device with limited remote access. Software solutions offer limited functionality and low integration opportunities among platforms.

In addition, analog video does not provide data for intelligent video, an evolving requirement for improved security. Present systems are difficult and expensive to configure on a network, creating problems with the IT department, which is becoming more and more involved in the selection of security systems. They cannot adequately compress video for management and reporting authorities, who demand the storage of increased frames per second from an explosion of cameras on the system. Lastly, in a global world of multicampus users, present systems tend to be local and single-site focused.

As a result, security directors at the forefront of the market want to transition from analog components to true digital networks that create virtual security systems to meet the changing infrastructures and security needs of 21st century organisations, working in a world of mergers, acquisitions and sell-offs with new threats to the organisation appearing month after month. To meet these challenges, they need seamless solutions that dramatically improve the effectiveness of their employees, systems that are as close to plug-and-play as possible.

Yet, at the same time they are being asked for dramatically increased security, budgets remain flat. As a result, their new systems must be able to leverage the use of their legacy analog products. Although it would be nice to cast out the old system and replace it with one that is completely new, digital, and intelligent, this reality does not exist except for the lucky few. To ask a company in a tight budget atmosphere to tear out their old systems in order to begin using IP cameras is simply not prudent, especially when they can start exploiting the benefits of IP using a hybrid solution that amortises the costs of presently-installed analog video surveillance equipment. Such a strategy lets users already invested in legacy analog systems create an IP-based video network while continuing to use their existing analog equipment. Then, as budgets and the system grow, when older analog components begin to fail, and new needs arise, they can continue to add IP-based components in a most efficient manner.

Does this mean that nobody is using networked video solutions, including IP, at present? Not at all. This segment of the security industry is the fastest growing and foreseen by most to be so for several years. By intelligently bridging the gap between analog and digital with the hybrid solutions available today, IP has become within the reach of every organisation that has a surveillance system and leading security directors are taking advantage of these new solutions.

The role of digital management software

Digital video management software provides the easiest, quickest way to manage, configure and control video security from anywhere at any time. Such software must be able to both centrally and remotely monitor all cameras, from 32 to thousands in an enterprise system, on the network in realtime. This is especially important for applications with multiple sites and multiple cameras, such as at schools, retail stores, corporations, transportation facilities and infrastructures, homeland security locales and public safety settings.

It is important that the software operates with the standard point-and-click ease of Windows to avoid the frustrations of learning curves with yet another set of instructions. Using such known, simple configuration techniques, one should be able to have the system automatically detect cameras on the network and let operators instantly monitor and control them from any location. The software should also instruct the system to route digital video streams to where they are needed for quick response to motion alarms and other realtime events.

Archiving capabilities must complement DVR storage by providing backup storage on commercial off-the-shelf computer hardware. As a result, administrators can add standard network and PC-based archiving systems. The system should also assure that special security and encryption capabilities are used to make the video archives admissible in court as forensic evidence.

Most importantly, digital video management software must have an open architecture. Without it, there is no assurance that the organisation can easily customise the system to its present and future environments. Open architecture assures integration with point-of-sale, access control, and building systems, which amortises costs among departments and helps provide a business case for the system.

Determining the amount of bandwidth

Users familiar with going on websites know the problems of bandwidth. Whenever opting for some streaming video, the question is, how good is it going to show up?

Most systems have segments of different bandwidths. So, if there is much bandwidth on one segment, the video goes through with no problems. But, once it hits a segment with less bandwidth and that segment already has plenty of information being pumped through it, the images can get blocked. Thus, in creating the system, the installer will want to assure that connections between the different segments will be in excess of the highest level of bandwidth needed.

However, to do this, you need to arrive at determining that level, which takes in consideration such things as image sizes, compression techniques, images per second or frame rate, and resolution of the image. To get into what each means, you can go to several sources, from your video surveillance expert to using search engines. However, suffice it to say, big image sizes need more bandwidth. Some compression techniques need more bandwidth than others (for instance, the ClearCast compression technique uses much less bandwidth, which is why it is preferred by casinos, which must run everything in realtime). In most applications, though, MPEG-4 compression does the job efficiently. Lastly, the more frames per second, the higher the bandwidth needed and high-resolution means high bandwidth.

Thus, questions to ask include -

* How big do the images need to be?

* What is the best compression technology for this installation?

* How many frames per second are needed?

* When can frames per second be minimised?

* How high a resolution is needed?

Working with IT

Physical security has traditionally not been of a high priority to the IT world. Likewise, physical security personnel have typically not been overly interested in IT, with the exception of needing support for equipment and networks and occasionally becoming frustrated with network restrictions imposed by IT. From a political standpoint, IT is more powerful and physical security is viewed as a small, separate group that does not have much interaction with other groups.

The terminology used in the two spaces is similar, but the meaning of the terms is different. In the physical security domain, IT or computer security is called 'logical security'. Physical security is called 'security'. In the physical security world, 'access control' means controlling doors and other access points with identification cards of varying types, whereas in the IT world 'access control' refers to controlling user and proxy access to applications, databases, platforms and other IT assets. Each group also uses 'intrusion detection' with different meanings.

Even the supposed convergence of physical and logical security has failed to spur the interest of IT personnel for the past five or 10 years. It was heavily hyped and several companies used the concept for marketing purposes, but not much really changed.

Today, there are at least two factors that are making physical security interesting to IT: you cannot have a secure network without a secure facility and the total cost of ownership for physical security systems in these tight times. It is cheaper and more efficient to have one organisation control security for the enterprise. People and resources can be reduced. Specialists in physical security can be housed in IT organisations.

The argument to converge physical security is becoming stronger for other reasons as well. IT security professionals have long struggled with the dilemma of misuse and the need to 'open up' their systems and provide accessible information to authorised parties. The notion of 'opening up' is repugnant to many security professionals since it makes rock-solid security so difficult.

Each advance in IT creates new vulnerabilities. IT is constantly battling to keep up - just to maintain large numbers of servers patched to the right OS patch recommended by the vendor can be an Herculean task. It is a nearly impossible problem with the openness of the Internet and the sheer volumes of individuals misusing or attempting to misuse IT assets. As a result, many critical systems are now separated from the Internet and isolated for this reason. At this point, physical security becomes the salient protection for the system, application or database.

For more information contact Brett Birch, GE Industrial - Security, +27 (0) 21 937 6000, brett.birch@ge.com

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