​​Need help? Call Us: (805) 505-7375                  Check Novesh's Event Calendar for our Exciting Cybersecurity Workshops at Thousand Oaks City Hall.         

Role of Physical Security in Cybersecurity

May 7, 2024 by
Role of Physical Security in Cybersecurity
Vida Vakilian

As digital threats continue to rise, the foundational role of physical security in
safeguarding information systems is often overlooked. However, the effectiveness
of cybersecurity measures is intrinsically linked to the physical protections in place
around the hardware and facilities that host critical data and systems. This article
explores how various cybersecurity standards and frameworks incorporate physical
security to ensure robust defense and compliance. 

Understanding the Importance of Physical Security in Cybersecurity Frameworks 

Physical security is critical for preventing direct access to sensitive hardware and
information systems. Unauthorized physical access can lead to catastrophic data
breaches, system manipulations, and service disruptions, undermining an
organization’s operations and reputation. 

Insights from Cybersecurity Standards and Frameworks
1. ISO/IEC 2​7001 

This standard emphasizes controlling physical access to protect
information assets, requiring secure areas and entry controls to mitigate the risks
associated with physical breaches.

  • Secure Areas (A.11.1.1): ISO/IEC 27001 requires the establishment of
    secure areas with perimeter security barriers and entry controls to protect
    areas where information systems are located. 
  • Physical Entry Controls (A.11.1.2): This standard demands controls to
    ensure that only authorized personnel have access to secure areas,
    preventing unauthorized physical access.
2. NIST SP 800-53 

The NIST guidelines include a dedicated family of controls
focusing on physical and environmental protection, illustrating the importance of
managing and monitoring physical access to protect information systems.

  • PE-2 Physical Access Authorizations: Ensures that access to physical
    facilities is controlled and that access permissions are reviewed and updated
    as necessary.
  • PE-3 Physical Access Control: Implements sub-controls to enforce physical
    access authorizations, monitor physical access, and ensure that physical
    access points are secured.  

mandates strict physical security controls for systems that
handle sensitive cardholder data, illustrating the direct impact of physical security
on information security.

  • Requirement 9: Restrict Physical Access to Cardholder Data: PCI DSS
    requires that physical access to systems storing cardholder data is restricted.
    This includes the use of video cameras or access control mechanisms to
    monitor individual physical access to sensitive areas.

HIPAA requires physical safeguards for facilities managing electronic
personal health information (ePHI), ensuring that proper access controls and
workstation security are in place.

  • Facility Access Controls: HIPAA mandates that covered entities implement
    policies and procedures to limit physical access to electronic information
    systems and the facilities in which they are housed while ensuring that
    properly authorized access is allowed.  
5. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) 

While primarily focused on data
privacy, GDPR also implies the need for physical security as part of its technical and
organizational measures to protect data from unauthorized or unlawful processing.

  • Technical and Organizational Measures: GDPR requires data controllers
    and processors to implement appropriate technical and organizational
    measures to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk, including the
    protection of physical systems from unauthorized access.

A framework for IT management and governance, includes guidance on
the proper configuration of the physical environment to ensure the security and
integrity of information systems.

  • DSS05.04: Manage Physical Access: This control COBIT framework
    focuses on managing physical access to prevent unauthorized access to,
    damage to, and interference with information systems and services. It
    involves establishing and maintaining physical entry and exit controls at
    facilities that house critical IT infrastructure.
7. FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act) 

FISMA requires federal agencies to develop, document, and implement an agency-wide program to provide information security for the data and systems they manage, which includes physical security measures to protect information infrastructure.

  • Security Categorization: FISMA requires that federal agencies categorize
    information and information systems according to risk levels and then
    implement appropriate security controls, including physical security
    measures to protect information infrastructure.
8. IEC 62443

The IEC 62443 standard recognizes the importance of
physical security as an integral part of protecting Industrial Automation and
Control Systems (IACS) from cybersecurity threats.

  • IEC 62443-3-3 - SR 1.8 (Physical Protection): This requirement focuses
    on protecting the physical environment of the IACS equipment. It specifies
    that physical protection should be in place to prevent unauthorized physical
    access to the IACS network and system components. This includes securing
    equipment enclosures and providing lockable doors on cabinets, among other
    measures. The use of surveillance systems and physical intrusion detection
    systems is required to monitor access to sensitive areas.  

Implementing Robust Physical Security

In a nutshell, these standards/frameworks recommend the following for the physical
security of information systems: 

1. Designated Restricted Areas:
  • Dedicated Secure Space: Establish a designated restricted area
    within your premises to house sensitive equipment like network
    devices and servers. This area should be isolated from general office
    spaces and secured with reinforced physical barriers such as strong
    doors, locks, and biometric access controls to ensure access by
    authorized personnel only.
2. Access Control Systems:
  • Layered Security: Implement multi-layered access controls from the
    outer perimeter to the innermost sensitive areas using technologies
    like card readers, PIN codes, and biometrics to ensure secure access. 
  • Permission Management: Regularly update and manage access
    permissions, making adjustments for role changes or employment
    status to maintain security integrity.  
3. Surveillance Systems:
  • Strategic Deployment: Install CCTV cameras and motion detectors
    throughout the facility, focusing on high-risk areas and entry points to
    provide comprehensive coverage and continuous monitoring.  
  • Integrated Alarms: Connect surveillance systems with alarm systems
    to trigger automatic alerts during unauthorized access attempts,
    enhancing incident detection and response.
4. Environmental and Fire Controls:  
  • Controlled Conditions: Maintain optimal conditions in restricted
    areas with environmental controls to regulate temperature and
    humidity, preventing damage to sensitive equipment.
  • Fire Suppression: Use specialized fire suppression systems safe for
    electronic equipment and conduct regular maintenance and
5. Security Policies and Training:
  • Restricted Area Policies: Develop and enforce strict policies for
    restricted areas, covering access, monitoring, and incident response.
    Include protocols for escorting visitors and maintenance personnel.
  • Training and Awareness: Provide specialized training to authorized
    personnel, ensuring they understand security protocols and the
    importance of protecting sensitive equipment.
6. Regular Security Audits:  
  • Targeted Audits: Perform specialized audits for restricted areas to
    ensure they meet the highest security standards. Assess both physical
    security measures and operational practices.
  • Ongoing Improvements: Utilize audit outcomes to continuously
    enhance security measures, adapting to new threats and incorporating
    the latest security technologies.  

Physical security is not merely an adjunct to cybersecurity but a critical component
that supports and enhances digital security measures. By adhering to a
comprehensive set of cybersecurity frameworks and standards, organizations can
ensure a holistic approach to security that protects against a wide range of threats.
Integrating physical security into cybersecurity strategies is not optional—it is
essential for comprehensive protection and compliance.

Share this post