'Smart' Building Industry Mulls Cybersecurity Challenges

New ‘attraction and curiosity’ for infosec at the Intelligent Buildings Conference this week.

A glance at the schedule for this week’s IB Con conference in Silicon Valley on “intelligent buildings” makes it clear that the building industry knows cybersecurity is a topic they must address.

According to Idan Udi Edry of Nation-E, who appeared as a panelist at IB Con, the industry has evolved past a dutiful attitude towards cybersecurity, and instead displayed “an attraction and curiosity” for the topic.  

“This year there was a change,” Edry says.  

The “smart” building industry — connecting operational technology (OT) like HVAC sytems, elevators, surveillance, lighting, water, and the candy bar machine, to information technology — is growing faster than either IT or OT pros can keep up with.

According to Navigant Research, total global revenue from the commercial building automation industry is already $70 billion, and will increase to $101 billion over the five years. The growth is expected to be particularly great in the Asia-Pacific region, where the demand for smart building technology is accelerating due to programs like the Indian government’s $15 billion “Smart Cities India” program.  

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One of the key components of many smart buildings is the Building Management System (BMS). A BMS system may integrate facility access controls, surveillance, HVAC, lighting, power, elevators, fire safety, etc.

Nevertheless, if a cyberattacker zeroes in on a BMS system, “The target is not necessarily the building,” says Edry. 

A BMS system wouldn’t necessarily need to interact with the CRM system your sportswear company is running up on the 15th floor, or the e-ticketing system the entertainment company is running on the 30th floor. However, if a denial-of-service attack on the BMS managed to take out the power for the entire building, it would cause a very bad day for all the businesses in that building. And that’s just the beginning of it.

Edry’s bigger concern is that OT and IT teams don’t work together to spend enough time thinking about each other.

Despite all the advancements in IT technology, for example, “OT still hasn’t changed,” he says. “Whether you bought your generator today or 10 years ago” (or longer) “the communication protocols are the same.” Everything still has a serial port, Edry says, and that creates a vulnerability that IT professionals might not think about.

It doesn’t matter how much you invest in securing your IT, Edry says. If you don’t also take into account the OT, you’re missing something, and leaving yourself vulnerable. 

So step one to a smart building cybersecurity strategy? Edry’s advice: map all the building’s assets, both IT and OT alike, in one place.  

“There is always going to be a conflict between the IT and the engineering” departments. The direction must come from the top.  

Edry says that this is beginning to happen. Because regulations and cyber insurance policies are now mandating certain protections on “critical assets” — including cyber-physical systems in smart buildings — OT engineers are now talking to their boards of directors about cybersecurity.

“Real change,” says Edry. “The strategy has changed.”

Sara Peters is Senior Editor at Dark Reading and formerly the editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad … View Full Bio

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