17 Feb 2021

Iain Deuchars Talks Intelligent Enclosure Protection

Enclosures containing electronics, communications, or cabling infrastructure offer a simple attack point for cyber breaches and an opportunity for a physical attack on the infrastructure.

Yet, many of these assets are housed within enclosures that provide minimal security features to offer a deterrent to any would-be attacker. We recently sat down with Iain Deuchars, General Manager of ComNet International, to discuss the ACRE brand’s approach to tackling this emerging security headache.

Is there a one-fits-all solution for protecting enclosures, or is it a case of different horses for different courses?

Deuchars: There are many different types of enclosures that vary depending on size, shape, build, or how they’re mounted. If it’s in the street, it could be on a concrete plinth, secured to a wall, or strapped to a lamp post. And because of this, there really is no one solution. But one thing that enclosures have in common is they have a door. And that was really our starting point for how we could add a level of protection to enclosures. Because of the door, you can add magnetic contact sensors to them. And these sensors can cover anything from gas or smoke detectors, sensors that will tell you that someone is trying to smash open your enclosure with a sledgehammer, or that someone is trying to lift your enclosure off of its mount. So, there are many solutions and we have a menu structure available that allows you to pick and choose the ones you want to fit your own requirements.

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How does a manufacturer go about tackling having to approach such a wide variety of requirements?

Deuchars: We try and look at what problems our end-users are facing. From there we, as manufacturers, sit down and say, ‘Okay, how can we create solutions to enable those operational requirements.’ The problem is from a global basis, those operational requirements are all different. Some of those operational requirements can even be dictated; for instance, certain governments will set Critical National Infrastructure criteria. A lot of it also boils down to education and experience. As with most things, some people will only realize a problem after it occurs. And so, with enclosures, a lot of end-users think that because they have put their kit into a locked metal box, it will be secure enough. But most times, they have got no way of monitoring their enclosure remotely. Security is a reaction marketplace. And for enclosures, there’s not, at present, a plethora of solutions out there for these type of attacks. It can be challenging to find what you’re looking for through a quick Google search compared to searching for more traditional security protection measures. Under ACRE, all we’re doing here with our Intelligent Enclosure Protection is taking our knowledge and experience from system installation and compiling it all together. We’re bringing different products from different parts of our business to make a true solution. 

How did you become interested in this particular aspect of security?

Deuchars: For me, it’s always just been a pet hate. Walking down the high street of a town anywhere in the UK, you can often see open street communication cabinets. You can actually look directly inside at the equipment. And if I was a bad guy, I could quite easily just put my foot into their enclosure and quite quickly take out their infrastructure. And to me, that seems crazy when a $2 magnetic contact on a door can quickly tell you whether your enclosure is open or shut and can be vital in keeping your network alive. And the operators of theses system, whether it is telecoms or internet providers, they’re providing a charged service to their customers, so they should really be protecting their enclosures. For instance, if we go to the data center world, there have been solutions for those for many years. For example, suppose you were to open a cabinet door in a data room. In that case, security devices are sitting in there that will take a snapshot of you, so they know who has opened that door. That is just one simple example. Why has that security level not been so readily taken into the outside world, into the unprotected environment? Simply put, that is what we, under our ACRE umbrella, are designing with our Intelligent Enclosure Protection solutions. 

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How does cybersecurity play into all of this?

Deuchars: Our preconceived idea about cybersecurity is some big corporation being knocked out or held to ransom by, again in our mind, someone sitting at a laptop, probably with their hood up over their head, typing away in the darkness, attacking us through the internet. And of course, that is a cyberattack, and that is cybersecurity. But how the would-be criminal is going to come at us is just like in sport. They attack at the weakest point, and they play on that. Networks can be deployed in the outside world in many ways, such as IoT, cameras monitoring the highways, cameras monitoring the city center, or fence line detection systems. That means those locations will now have a network connection. And that can be a point of attack in a non-secure outside world. And many people think, ‘That is okay because I’m going to take that ethernet device that my cameras are connected to, and I’m going to put it inside an enclosure.’ But what people do not realize is that the only thing that the enclosure is doing is protecting the ethernet device from mother nature. Because, without proper security, those enclosures can be broken into pretty easily. Many of them are just a single key that is not in any way coded to the device. So, people need to realize that cybersecurity is twofold. It can be carried out by hacking the network or physically breaking into the weakest physical point. And so, a simple boot through the open door of an enclosure can vandalize the devices inside and take down a small or large part of a network. And by definition, this meets the criteria for a cyberattack – an attack on the hardware or software of a network. This has to be realized by end-users and consultants, and they need to address it. Our Intelligent Enclosure Protection solutions at ACRE will help them to do that. 

David Prendergast is the Content Creation Manager at Vanderbilt International.