Spotlight article: Domain 9, Physical Security

Information security depends on the security and management of the physical space in which computer systems operate. Domain 9 of the Common Body of Knowledge addresses the challenges of securing the physical space, its systems and the people who work within it by use of administrative, technical and physical controls.

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Information security depends on the security and management of the physical space in which computer systems operate. Domain 9 of the CISSP exam's Common Body of Knowledge addresses the challenges of securing the physical space, its systems and the people who work within it by use of administrative, technical and physical controls. The following topics are covered:

  • Facilities management: The administrative processes that govern the maintenance and protection of the physical operations space, from site selection through emergency response.
  • Risks, issues and protection strategies: Risk identification and the selection of security protection components.
  • Perimeter security: Typical physical protection controls.

Facilities management
Facilities management is a complex component of corporate security that ranges from the planning of a secure physical site to the management of the physical information system environment. Facilities management responsibilities include site selection and physical security planning (i.e. facility construction, design and layout, fire and water damage protection, anti-theft mechanisms, intrusion detection and security procedures.) Protections must extend to both people and assets. The necessary level of protection depends on the value of the assets and data. CISSP® candidates must learn the concept of critical-path analysis as a means of determining a component's business function criticality relative to the cost of operation and replacement. Furthermore, students need to gain an understanding of the optimal location and physical attributes of a secure facility. Among the topics covered in this domain are site inspection, location, accessibility and obscurity, considering the area crime rate, and the likelihood of natural hazards such as floods or earthquakes.

This domain also covers the quality of construction material, such as its protective qualities and load capabilities, as well as how to lay out the structure to minimize risk of forcible entry and accidental damage. Regulatory compliance is also touched on, as is preferred proximity to civil protection services, such as fire and police stations. Attention is given to computer and equipment rooms, including their location, configuration (entrance/egress requirements) and their proximity to wiring distribution centers at the site.

Physical risks, issues and protection strategies
An overview of physical security risks includes risk of theft, service interruption, physical damage, compromised system integrity and unauthorized disclosure of information. Interruptions to business can manifest due to loss of power, services, telecommunications connectivity and water supply. These can also seriously compromise electronic security monitoring alarm/response devices. Backup options are also covered in this domain, as is a strategy for quantifying the risk exposure by simple formula.

Investment in preventive security can be costly. Appropriate redundancy of people skills, systems and infrastructure must be based on the criticality of the data and assets to be preserved. Therefore a strategy is presented that helps determine the selection of cost appropriate controls. Among the topics covered in this domain are regulatory and legal requirements, common standard security protections such as locks and fences, and the importance of establishing service level agreements for maintenance and disaster support. Rounding out the optimization approach are simple calculations for determining mean time between failure and mean time to repair (used to estimate average equipment life expectancy) — essential for estimating the cost/benefit of purchasing and maintaining redundant equipment.

As the lifeblood of computer systems, special attention is placed on adequacy, quality and protection of power supplies. CISSP candidates need to understand power supply concepts and terminology, including those for quality (i.e. transient noise vs. clean power); types of interference (EMI and RFI); and types of interruptions such as power excess by spikes and surges, power loss by fault or blackout, and power degradation from sags and brownouts. A simple formula is presented for determining the total cost per hour for backup power. Proving power reliability through testing is recommended and the advantages of three power protection approaches are discussed (standby UPS, power line conditioners and backup sources) including minimum requirements for primary and alternate power provided.

Environmental controls are explored in this domain, including the value of positive pressure water drains and climate monitoring devices used to control temperature, humidity and reduce static electricity. Optimal temperatures and humidity settings are provided. Recommendations include strict procedures during emergencies, preventing typical risks (such as blocked fans), and the use of antistatic armbands and hygrometers. Positive pressurization for proper ventilation and monitoring for air born contaminants is stressed.

The pros and cons of several detection response systems are deeply explored in this domain. The concept of combustion, the classes of fire and fire extinguisher ratings are detailed. Mechanisms behind smoke-activated, heat-activated and flame-activated devices and Automatic Dial-up alarms are covered, along with their advantages, costs and shortcomings. Types of fire sources are distinguished and the effectiveness of fire suppression methods for each is included. For instance, Halon and its approved replacements are covered, as are the advantages and the inherent risks to equipment of the use of water sprinklers.

Administrative controls
The physical security domain also deals with administrative controls applied to physical sites and assets. The need for skilled personnel, knowledge sharing between them, separation of duties, and appropriate oversight in the care and maintenance of equipment and environments is stressed. A list of management duties including hiring checks, employee maintenance activities and recommended termination procedures is offered. Emergency measures include accountability for evacuation and system shutdown procedures, integration with disaster and business continuity plans, assuring documented procedures are easily available during different types of emergencies, the scheduling of periodic equipment testing, administrative reviews of documentation, procedures and recovery plans, responsibilities delegation, and personnel training and drills.

Perimeter security
Domain nine also covers the devices and techniques used to control access to a space. These include access control devices, surveillance monitoring, intrusion detection and corrective actions. Specifications are provided for optimal external boundary protection, including fence heights and placement, and lighting placement and types. Selection of door types and lock characteristics are covered. Surveillance methods and intrusion-detection methods are explained, including the use of video monitoring, guards, dogs, proximity detection systems, photoelectric/photometric systems, wave pattern devices, passive infrared systems, and sound and motion detectors, and current flow sensitivity devices that specifically address computer theft. Room lock types — both preset and cipher locks (and their variations) -- device locks, such as portable laptop locks, lockable server bays, switch control locks and slot locks, port controls, peripheral switch controls and cable trap locks are also covered. Personal access control methods used to identify authorized users for site entry are covered at length, noting social engineering risks such as piggybacking. Wireless proximity devices, both user access and system sensing readers are covered (i.e. transponder based, passive devices and field powered devices) in this domain.

CISSP® is a registered certification mark of the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc., also known as ISC(2). 

This was first published in September 2008

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