CISM, CTO & CISO, Virtually Informed

March 24, 2020

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Should security professionals be considered key workers?

With the news that a variety of security roles are covered under the UK Government’s ‘Key Worker’ definition, Sarb Sembhi highlights just how crucial professionals – both physical and cyber – in the sector are to the protection of people, businesses, and assets – not just in the UK, but on a global scale. Sarb also investigates how the coronavirus is set to impact all aspects of security in the future. 

In short… yes, all security (cyber security and physical security) workers should be considered key workers. One reason is that while health workers are protecting people and dealing with the human aspects of protection, security workers are there to protect the economic and other physical and intangible assets of the nation.

With the possibility of office buildings being left unused or more-or-less empty, they can become easy targets for criminals, due to the fact that they still have a lot of valuable data – be it personal data, intellectual property or any other type of data. But apart from data, offices have a lot of physical assets that can be stolen. While many premises are often unused at weekends, we are currently in a very different situation when you’re talking weeks, or maybe months.

Buildings – operating or closed – all still need physical security, even though the need may be slightly different, whilst the data in hospitals, government departments, enterprises, small business, etc., all still need protection as well. The requirement for protection has not decreased as a result of the coronavirus.

The coronavirus will change both physical and cyber security over the next few months and years to come. My comments above are related more to the here and now; all buildings need to be protected, all data needs to be protected. They need to be protected to ensure that not only workers continuing to work from wherever they are able to do so, but that when things get better the assets left in the unused buildings have not been stolen, damaged or negatively affected through criminal activities.

Since Friday 20th March, things have moved fairly quickly, including:

I fully support a focus on health and critical infrastructure workers to be identified as key workers. However, I believe that a narrow focus on health and critical infrastructure workers only as key workers may have a detrimental effect on the future economic stability of the UK. I accept that the definition states that it will be flexible, but as it stands, I agree with the BSIA and SIA in that it needs further clarification, and of course Rollo Davies’ petition.

Possible impacts on premises

While many people are self-isolating by staying at, or working from home, over the next few months, there is a possibility that some of the following could happen:

  • Functioning as well as temporarily closed buildings will require a higher total number of staff to keep premises secure. The total number of staff needed to manage agitated shoppers from bulk buying will be increased.
  • Physical security staff not being considered as key workers may lead to some not being able to afford childcare and eventually leaving the industry.
  • The above may lead to fewer physical security staff in the market, while the immediate need may be greater than the available supply.
  • There may also be a reduced need in CCTV observation centres – to an extent, due to the closed buildings.
  • A greater number of people are economically affected by not being able to go out to work and surviving on the breadline – especially those on zero-hour contracts. This may lead to more people willing to explore alternative revenue sources.
  • Criminals wanting to take advantage of the opportunities of empty buildings with expensive equipment and data in them (soft and hard copy data) with fewer staff protecting them.

How is CCTV being used to combat the coronavirus?

Cyber scams relating to the coronavirus on the rise


If any combination of these things turn out to be true, even to a smaller rather than a large extent, then it is possible that:

  • There may be an increase in the use of drones by property owners to survey their estates, while there are fewer CCTV observation staff around and people accessing buildings.
  • More drones are used by police to enforce curfews.
  • In response, there may be a growth in the use of drones by criminals, which would lead to a greater need for an improvement of anti-drone technologies. Regardless of the current anti-drone regulations, these could likely be tightened further.
  • The end result will still lead to fewer physical security staff.

Premises will all be impacted one way or another, regardless of how long the state of emergency lasts. I have intentionally tried to play devil’s advocate and list some of the negatives, but regardless of whether these turn out to be true, the one thing that is certain is that physical security professionals will be impacted in many ways.

Smart building and city impacts

I believe that some of the smart building and smart cities technologies will also be affected in a number of different ways. The impacts will be driven by how we change our daily working lives at home and how we physically shop, since these are the two main activities that we are all permitted to do for the moment.

ConvergedSecurityCentre-SmartBuilding-20We have seen over the last few years how some vendors have jumped upon certain bandwagons to use the latest buzz words in their marketing, but not necessarily in the products or services. With so many security businesses affected right now, there will be many that will rise up to the challenges that the changes are going to bring us.

Here are some of the technology impacts to smart buildings and cities I see happening:

  • In the coming weeks, public CCTV systems will be used to ensure that curfews and emergency powers are being enforced, while facial recognition technologies will be deployed even further than in normal times – despite privacy concerns.
  • Behavioural CCTV systems in retail improve not just for customers to avoid checkouts (like the new Amazon technology), but also to stop people buying more than permitted under current retail led rationing. These types of technologies will only get better very quickly, and probably before everything gets back to normal. Later, such technologies will track us in ways that would never have been acceptable had the coronavirus not happened.
  • Partly led by the surveillance ‘requirements’ of the above two, connections between more than one group of data will accelerate in previously un-heard of connections, for example between facial recognition and mobile phone data from mobile phone carriers. How invasive these turn out to be remains to be seen.
  • This may in turn lead to more privacy cloaking tools for those who want more privacy, whether they have something to hide or not.
  • Whereas many of the smart building technologies have all been about the benefits of better occupancy when full in the past, this will change to low or no occupancy on the one hand, and different occupancy types on the other hand. Regardless of past occupancy, space will be better utilised for different uses (local laws may need to change to facilitate this).
  • The need for higher continuous benefits of utilisation of premises will lead to quicker and better integration of different smart building technologies, to the point we actually have real smart buildings rather than buildings with smart technologies in them (and are just calling themselves Smart Buildings).
  • The impact of these technologies will also affect the manufacturing industry to an extent. Whereas at the moment there has been talk of some car manufacturers saying they will start producing safety masks and other equipment, the reality is that it is not easy with legacy equipment. The changes in technology will enable more manufacturers to be more agile than before, thus being able to deliver better and wider spread digital transformation to manufacturing than has previously been possible.
  • The knock-on effect of some of the above is that the ‘system of individual systems’ level improves to a point where large AI systems managing the system of systems infrastructures end up producing real smart cities, rather than cities with smart infrastructures (rather than just calling themselves smart cities, like London currently does).

Some of these changes in technology are interesting and exciting, but some are very scary indeed. This is only a partial high level list – it doesn’t include how criminals may change to take advantage of opportunities that they see, nor on the overarching impacts to cyber security.

Whatever happens, we will be changed, but stronger

When we come out of the coronavirus era, we will have changed how we think about work, how we think about working in an office, how we think about travelling three hours to see customers, etc. etc. We will have changed in how we interact with our technology, how we use it as a tool will be different, how we benefit from it as a tool will also be different.

This is the first adversity that has affected much of the whole world since technology has enabled us to adapt to deal with a situation quickly. And, because vendors want to learn from this to deal with it better next time, all those who make it through will be in a world that is stronger than before, both mentally and technologically.

Download the Intruder Alarm Report 2020

Download this report, produced in conjunction with Texecom, to discover how increasing processing power, accelerating broadband speeds, cloud-managed solutions and the internet of things and transforming the intruder alarm market, and whether firms are adopting these innovative new technologies.

AlarmReport-Main-19

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Will Haryson
Will Haryson
May 22, 2020 6:46 am

Thank you for the article!