In addition to cybersecurity, the physical protection of IT environments is underestimated by many people in charge. However, smouldering fires, water ingress, high temperatures or unauthorised access are often responsible for failures.

In addition to security at the information technology level, many IT managers underestimate the physical dangers that can paralyse the technical infrastructure in server and technical rooms. These include, for example, smouldering fires from faulty insulation that can lead to a fire, water ingress, excessive temperature and humidity or unauthorised access to non-public areas.

The lack of physical security is also the part of the ISO 27001 audit for the implementation of a required information security management system (ISMS) where auditors most often find the greatest deficiencies. According to a study by Hewlett-Packard, around 77% of all companies experience system failures every year, and there are a number of reasons for these. Besides software errors and human error, physical hazards in particular are among the best-known causes.

As experts in securing physical IT infrastructures, we have compiled a checklist of 10 questions that IT systems in municipal utilities, utilities and CRITIS operators should fulfil.

Self-test: How secure is my critical infrastructure? – 10 simple questions:

1. Is the IT housed in a specially prepared server room or a data centre?

Risk: Rooms for IT use should be constructed or adapted for the special requirements and have the following characteristics: Fire doors and appropriate fire protection measures, secure windows, adapted electrical circuits, no water-carrying pipes, no additional uses of any kind.

2. Is the development of fires reported at an early stage and can measures be initiated immediately?

Risk: A large proportion of fires occur in electrical systems and equipment. These usually develop slowly due to smouldering fires. Electrical distributions, UPS systems, air-conditioning systems and power supplies are potential fire hazards.

3. If the room temperature rises, is the responsible department informed at an early stage in order to initiate countermeasures? Does this receive real-time information about the indoor climate?

Risk : If the air conditioning fails, the servers may overheat. This usually leads to a total IT failure within a short time. Other critical conditions are excessive humidity or condensation after air conditioning failures.

4. are water leaks caused by burst pipes or a defective air conditioning system automatically reported before damage occurs?

Risk: The ingress of water into server rooms due to flooding or defects in heating systems and air-conditioning units etc. can lead to a total IT failure within a very short time.

5. In the event of a power failure, is it known how long it will last and whether the UPS is working correctly?

Risk: In the event of a power failure, the UPS may unexpectedly malfunction, resulting in a total IT failure. Voltage fluctuations are often also caused by industrial equipment and can lead to UPS or power supply failures.

6. Have active measures been taken against burglaries and can a prompt response still be made in the event of an incident?

Risk: Burglary or theft are the most obvious threats. In addition to the physical theft of hardware, logical access and attacks can also occur. Accessible consoles are critical points of attack here.

7. Can it be traced who was in the room, when and for how long?

Risk: IT rooms must be adequately secured against unauthorised access and this must be documented wherever possible. Very often, attacks on IT take place from within the companies themselves.

Do responsible persons receive notifications in real time at all times in the event of failures of active components or network connections?

Risk: The failure of active or passive components such as routers, switches and telephone systems can lead to massive disruptions in the IT infrastructure. System failures of several hours to days can quickly cause very great damage here.

9. Are effects of human error automatically reported at an early stage and can these reports also be transmitted independently of your IT?

Risk: Incorrect operation, open windows, disregard of technical instructions, clumsy behaviour – all this regularly leads to expensive IT failures. Organisational measures contribute to avoidance, which is supported by fast and redundant notification of irregularities to several persons.

10. Can events be traced and reconstructed at any time (even over several months) to avoid future errors?

Risk: Documentation and recording of normal and critical system conditions over months or years are often basic requirements of QA and certification systems. Complete documentation may relieve you of liability risks.

Conclusion: Dangers are underestimated, holistic solutions are easy to implement

Many municipal utilities, suppliers and CRITIS operators underestimate the physical threats to which their critical infrastructures are exposed. In order to guarantee the required security, scalable “all-in-one systems” are needed that can grow with the increasing requirements. However, sufficient basic protection is already possible with manageable investment and installation costs.

This includes an integrated system of holistic monitoring of environmental parameters such as temperature, humidity, dew point, voltage, fire and intrusion, as well as access management with permanent video surveillance. If the components are IP-capable, those responsible can access the various areas such as access, alarm, climate, energy and video via an online dashboard and control them conveniently and remotely in real time. This means that decentralised systems can also be managed centrally with little personnel effort.