Standalone Security Systems Versus Integrated Systems


There are a number of reasons why clients opt for an integrated security solution, usually to increase the overall level of security, or make it easier to manage. Reducing threats and risks is the whole purpose of security, but has integration increased vulnerabilities?

Options for clients include separate standalone or disparate security systems, integrated security systems and/or a dedicated platform such as a Physical Security Information Management (PSIM).

Standalone security solutions are a more traditional approach to security installations. The installed systems may include access control, CCTV, intercoms, perimeter intrusion detection, pedestrian and vehicle barriers, duress systems and so on.

Each standalone system is managed and operated independently. Actions initiated within each independent system do not impact on any other system. Single system failures will not impact on any other system and each system can be upgraded independently without affecting other systems.

Obviously, as these systems are standalone, one system cannot interact with any other system. Each system is activated and addressed independently. The result is a slow and cumbersome operation. Operator input is required on multiple systems to create action events and make sure each system is kept up to date.

Generally, more server and backend hardware is required to deliver all the systems, and more operators are needed to interact with the additional user consoles. Each system will have its own network infrastructure and these need to be managed and secured separately. When performing investigations, standalone systems are interrogated in isolation, which has a huge impact on time synchronisation.

The shortfalls of standalone systems have seen system integrators spruiking the benefits of integrating systems. Some systems can be connected to each other and work together to deliver select information to operators and managers, which will reduce operator interaction. An alarm on a system such as a door open too long (DOTL) can automatically bring associated cameras to screen, thus, actions performed on a single system can automatically perform actions on other connected systems, providing monitoring operators a better result.

Integrated systems have other benefits. For example, they can utilise the same infrastructure and thereby reduce hardware, utilise the same network infrastructure, be time synchronised to a single central point and provide additional information for investigators.

However, integrated systems also have a number of their own problems. The most widely reported is the mandate of purchasing proprietary equipment that locks the customer into the one vendor, limiting any flexibility. System failures in integrated systems often impact on other systems and a third party attack on a single system can increase the vulnerability of an integrated system. Version changes, upgrades and bug fixes can impact on the integration(s) and day-to-day operations. Generally, an integrated solution will not result in improved redundancy or failover from one server to another.

Simply, integrating systems does not necessarily address the need for operational improvements. Operational improvements are made by operators performing specific actions and business rules on receiving certain events or state changes in the equipment. The underlying purpose of integration is to improve the system’s performance and operation. The solution needs to define the event through filters and route the predetermined rules to the operator to ensure correct implementation.

A poorly designed implementation that simply integrates systems to reduce the amount of hardware and utilise the same infrastructure can increase vulnerabilities. Often, cost-effective and direct designs do not deliver secure results. Only a complete and well-designed integrated solution can successfully secure premises and manage vulnerabilities. Achieving a successful result requires careful planning.

Alternatively, PSIM systems offer speed and accuracy for event actions like alarms. A PSIM defines the events and routes the rules so the operators correctly execute policies and procedures. A PSIM reduces the amount of hardware needed because appliances such as servers can be used to operate multiple systems. Further, the number of services required on each server can be reduced, making the solution more efficient.

Redundancy can be implemented across the entire solution, including all sub-systems, managed by the PSIM. By implementing fault tolerance within a virtualised environment, a server failure will not impact on operations as the system will continue operating, averting downtime.

Each operator uses a single console, drastically reducing complexity, viewing monitors, operator keyboards and so on. This benefit itself reduces control room clutter.

A quality PSIM will present all relevant information immediately to the operator, providing them the best situational awareness possible. This reduces operator stress and delivers a more precise and consistent result. All information for a thorough investigation is presented in a single console, with all events chronologically categorised and time synchronised. The systems’ health, including the network infrastructure, can be monitored from a single console. The training burden is greatly reduced and easy to administer as operators and administrators learn and operate a single system that performs all the site’s functions.

A PSIM is the ultimate integration platform that offers superior security, awareness, operational and management ease. The key point to realise with a PSIM is that system operators only really have to learn one single system (the PSIM) and should it fail, operators do not necessarily need to know how to operate the individual sub-systems, even though they are still fully operational. This can be mitigated by implementing failover design strategies far superior to traditional integrated systems. Eliminating the single points of failure must be a design priority.

PSIMs rely on integrating sub-systems. Integration can be time consuming and costly. Therefore, upgrades and version changes should be planned and managed by initiating a strategy-at-solution design to inform all parties of system maintenance procedures. Overall, a PSIM greatly reduces the associated risks over any other method.

As the majority of systems are now Internet Protocol (IP) based, an attack on any system, whether standalone, integrated or PSIM, can impact upon its operations. However, IP systems can generally be made more secure than their older analogue counterparts as security features can be installed on them. This should be strongly considered before upgrading any old analogue systems.

An IT security network specialist can design and implement strategies to safeguard against cyberattacks. This usually involves locking all unused ports, registering each device (such as cameras and intercoms) to send alerts if unplugged or tampered with, installing monitoring applications and so on.

All the usual security programs such as anti-virus and firewalls need to be installed and made fully operational. A quality PSIM will interface to these IT security systems and present alarms and any other IT-related information to the operators.

The security system IT network should be managed and maintained by onsite personnel who should always be in a much better position to protect the networks from any compromise.

Any organisation that has control room operations should seriously consider a PSIM is its integration platform. PSIMs deliver speed and accuracy never seen before. The superior security, awareness, operational and management ease cannot be matched by any other solution. A PSIM is the best method to successfully integrate security systems.

Emanuel Stafilidis
Emanuel Stafilidis has worked in the electronic security industry since 1988 as a security systems integrator and a security consultant. Emanuel is an independent security adviser and can be contacted at