November 27, 2015


State of Physical Access Trend Report 2024

Securing Critical National Infrastructure in Remote Locations: Prevailing Strategies are Simply Inadequate

The recent news from Nigeria, where the nation’s pipelines might be losing up to 300,000 barrels of oil a day, highlights the security threats to critical national infrastructure and the profound consequences when they are realised.


There are literally hundreds of security solutions on the market that claim they can help secure CNI (Critical National Infrastructure) assets, but the majority are only really suitable for the protection of accessible locations with power and communications on hand, and road or rail infrastructure to enable a timely response.

In practice the real world is rarely this accommodating. Many critical assets, such as oil and gas pipelines, are located in remote and hostile environments with significant or escalating security threats.

Oil and gas consumption continues to rise, driving exploration, extraction and processing into ever more such hostile and remote locations. However, identifying and recovering valuable oil and gas reserves means nothing without the security of supply.

Threats also come from increasingly diverse and intelligent adversaries. While terrorism may capture the headlines, the growing value of energy also draws attention from organised crime and the opportunistic actions of individuals who steal from pipelines and generally disrupt supply.

The current approach to securing remote locations is inadequate. The realities of terrain, distance and limited power and communications infrastructure render many conventional security measures, such as fencing and camera networks, impractical.

Periodic monitoring by helicopters or land vehicles can be predictable and easy to circumvent, as well as costly. These overt high-touch approaches must be replaced with more intelligent and more autonomous systems.

oil refinery


There are of course better technologies available on the market today, typically based around fibre-optic cable solutions for monitoring long-lengths of pipeline against digging, hot-tapping, and general interference.

Lengths of 40 kilometres or more might be monitored by a single cable. These fibre-optic cable solutions can also be used for communications and SCADA applications. However, such solutions require reliable access to power and tend to be costly and laborious to install.

Whilst fibre optic solutions have to an extent proven to be effective and reliable, they have significant security limitations. They do not intercept or prevent security breaches, but rather alert security personnel as and when a breach is occurring, often too little too late.

Responding to a security breach can take considerable time, even with helicopter or UAV intervention. However, significant damage to the pipeline is likely to have occurred and the consequential environmental and reputational damage can run into millions of dollars to rectify.

More significantly these solutions are also predictable, overtly deployed and relatively simple to find and circumnavigate. Where theft or interference is on an industrial or institutional level, they prove helpless.

Early detection

The real key to securing such critical asset is the early detection of intruders along routes most likely to be used to access the pipelines. Early detection provides time for security personnel to respond and intercept adversaries to prevent theft or damage.

Our experience working in Afghanistan led us to the development of new capabilities for remote security applications that can be deployed quickly, run for long periods on their own power source and, most importantly, operate independently of national communications infrastructure.

These are now available commercially and are in-service today protecting remote critical national infrastructure and borders in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Autonomous wireless sensor network

The approach we advocate is a layered system of defences, enabling greater situational awareness and an early warning system for response teams.

Our intrusion detection system features an autonomous wireless sensor network capable of detecting and classifying seismic activity, such as vehicle or human movements, and automatically alerting via a self-forming, self-healing mesh network. The sensors’ unique low profile design and minimal spoil (no digging-in required) make them lightweight, quick to deploy and with a long service life.

This mesh network is supported by a series of  video cameras that can be triggered to awaken when a potential intrusion is detected, providing a controllable real-time HD video stream from the remote location to security operators over almost any communications infrastructure in place, such as cellular, satellite or IP networks, and even when power resources are scarce.

This video streaming uses EdgeVis, a class-leading encoding and transmission technology, that transmits near zero latency, full motion video, plus audio, alarms and other data, over incredibly low bandwidths.

Non-lethal deterrents, such as acoustic alarms that physically prevent intruders accessing remote assets without operator intervention, have also proved successful in keeping intruders away from vital infrastructure until a response team can arrive.

All of these security layers are integrated into a single solution, providing almost out of the box deployments and delivering protection and a common operating picture in days or at most weeks.

It isn’t impossible to effectively protect CNI assets, especially those in typically remote and hostile locations. But with the wrong technology deployed it can often seem so.

However, the right solution will enable a response or interception to be mounted before rather than after an attack is initiated. And that can be a genuine game changer in this space, putting the good guys back on top.


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