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Physical Security Now More Than Just Locks

(Sidebar to "OPC Holes Create Swirl of Controversy" from the June 2007 issue of Automation World)

Network security gets a lot of attention these days, but there’s also a big push to upgrade the physical security of plants. Identification (ID) cards are becoming more intelligent, as are the systems that manage them.

A growing number of ID cards are incorporating smart card chips or adding radio frequency indentification (RFID) capabilities. That makes it easier to tell where employees are, while preventing unauthorized people such as contractors from getting into secure areas. As these security systems get more sophisticated, there’s a big push to add intelligence so companies don’t need scores of security people monitoring movement.

“Systems are getting smarter, making more decisions, so that instead of getting thousands of alarms, customers just get what they need to know” says Ric Kucharyson, senior marketing manager at automation controls vendor Honeywell
Process Solutions, in Phoenix. For example, ID cards may only allow an employee in certain areas at certain times, so alerts will be sent only when they enter restricted areas.

At chemical and pharmaceutical plants, as well as others where the risks of theft and tampering can be higher, there’s often a bit more focus on security. A growing number of plants in these fields are turning to biometrics to make sure that only authorized people are in sensitive areas.

Biometric companies are making fingerprint and iris scan sensors less expensive and easier to use. For example, biometric products vendor Sagem Morpho Inc.’s latest fingerprint scanners automatically correct for incorrect finger placement, reducing the number of times employees have to retry their entries. Highlighting the importance of networking, the Alexandria, Va.-based company’s latest biometric terminals encrypt and decrypt data, transmitting it over either Ethernet or wireless links.

Wireless technologies like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ ZigBee are making wireless links more viable. “In the past, wireless was an open door. Now it’s amazing how secure wireless can be,” Kucharyson says.
Wireless can be especially helpful for cameras, making it possible to put them in remote areas and move them to help increase security.

He also notes that battery-powered products are increasing in number, providing protection even when power is interrupted. The combination of wireless and batteries makes it very easy for personnel to set up new stations and adapt to changes that might occur.

Cost remains one of the biggest reasons that companies don’t tighten security. “It’s difficult to determine a return on investment for security. When you have something you want to protect, you have to associate the level of risk associated with it,” Kucharyson says.

To see the main story this sidebar was taken from - "OPC Holes Create Swirl of Controversy" - please visit

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