Smart Buildings And Network Security

Smart buildings, which use building automation systems (BAS) to put air temperature, lighting and security on a common network, are popping up on college campuses and in the corporate world:

  • Kenmark Group (a real estate firm in San Francisco) has created an operations center that centrally monitors multiple office buildings using a web portal.
  • Panasonic corporate headquarters is replacing wall-mounted thermostats with virtual thermostats controlled by PCs.
  • Toronto's Pearson International Airport is tying a flight information database to heating, lighting and air conditioning systems at each gate in order to restrict energy use to those periods when gate areas are occupied.
These buildings are converging with traditional IT infrastructure to improve efficiency and real-time control. Building managers are demanding that control systems be integrated into IT networks; the network of sensors and controllers are to be linked into other IT applications.


(LONTalk or BACnet use Ethernet and TCP/IP)

However, sharing the IP backbone raises security concerns among network admins. Yale is trying to address these concerns in a project that consolidates its BAS for 210 campus buildings. They've created an isolated, parallel network protected by firewalls and uses nonroutable IP addresses to keep data off the Internet.

Jerry Hill, director of systems engineering at Yale, says security is paramount. "We don't want a student to hack into our building management systems just because they can," he says.

Security problems show up at every level, due to the lack of standards in the industry. Manufacturers have little concept of directory-enabled security. In some buildings, you can access front door locks through the BAS systems. "Security is a very serious matter," says Mark Kendall, CEO of Kenmark Group.

Science fiction authors have already "tested" building security systems in their imaginations - and the systems often fail. Here's an account that would probably scare the wits out of many systems and building managers from William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer. The technologically savvy Panther Moderns are helping Case and Molly break into the Sense/Net corporate headquarters:

Case ... had only a vague idea of what the Panther Moderns planned as a diversion for the Sense/Net security people. His job was to make sure the intrusion program he'd written would link with the Sense/Net systems when Molly needed it to...

The Sense/Net ice had accepted his entry as a routine transfer from the consortium's Los Angeles complex. He was inside. Behind him, viral subprograms peeled off, meshing with the gate's code fabric, ready to deflect the real Los Angeles data when it arrived...

Nine Moderns, scattered along two hundred miles of the Sprawl, had simultaneously dialed MAX EMERG from pay phones. Each Modern delivered a short set speech, hung up, and drifted out into the night, peeling off surgical gloves. Nine different police departments and public security agencies were absorbing the information that an obscure subsect of militant Christian fundamentalists had just taken credit for having introduced clinical levels of an outlawed psychoactive agent known as Blue Nine into the ventilation system of the Sense/Net Pyramid. Blue Nine, known in California as Grievous Angel, had been shown to produce acute paranoia and homicidal psychosis in eighty-five percent of experimental subjects...

The Panther Moderns allowed four minutes for their first move to take effect, then injected a second carefully prepared dose of misinformation. This time, they shot it directly into the Sense/Net building's internal video system. At 12:04:03, every screen in the building strobed for eighteen seconds in a frequency that produced seizures in a susceptible segment of Sense/Net employees...

At 12:05:00, the mirror-sheathed nexus of the Sense/Net consortium held just over three thousand employees. At five minutes after midnight, as the Moderns' message ended in a flare of white screen, the Sense/Net Pyramid screamed...

Smart buildings with interlinked systems will be the norm in coming years; hopefully, building security won't get lost due to competing standards - or a lack of awareness of how networked systems can be used against their owners. Read more at The Rise of Smart Buildings. See more technovelgy from Neuromancer; thanks to Roland for the tip on the story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/25/2005)

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