You Should Consider Cybersecurity During All Phases Of An Audiovisual Installation
By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D
Earlier this month, the San Francisco Bay Area was graced with the presence of President Barack Obama, who was here to participate in a Cybersecurity Summit at Stanford University. *Side note*, I am still unsure if it’s spelled as one word or two, cyber security, or with a dash, cyber-security, and the online jury seems to be rather undecided. So for the sake of brevity, I am sticking with the one-word-version, cybersecurity. *End side note*. At the aforementioned summit of cybersecurity experts, students, and information technology managers in Palo Alto, Mr. Obama signed an executive order encouraging the private sector to share cybersecurity threat information with other companies and the U.S. government.
Rising stock prices of cybersecurity software firms like Palo Alto Networks (PANW), FireEye (FEYE), and CyberArk (CYBR) have also reflected this increased level of awareness. Why? Because unlike guns or nuclear warfare, cyber hacking can happen right under our noses, for years and years, without anyone even noticing. Larger firms have realized that they need the best of the best to combat these criminals, and investors have taken notice to the growth potential of these new age software “heroes” who will do battle for a price, much like the Routiers, the early mercenary soldiers of the Middle Ages.
As audiovisual experts we also need to become IT cybersecurity experts, at least to some degree. At minimum, we have to know what risk we are adding to the network before, during, and after the AV installation. Here is a list of ways you can protect your audio, video, and control systems against theft and hackers, in no particular order:
- Have a frank and honest discussion with the project team about cybersecurity. Find out who is in charge of the network, and who will need access to the systems.
- Use motorized projection screens that are fitted into the ceilings to discourage theft.
- Mount projectors using security boxes, or scissor lifts to hide them up inside the ceilings.
- AV touch panels and camera controllers often have passwords, but are they updated?
- Portable TVs and poorly mounted speakers are easy targets; don’t “tempt” thieves
- Ping all projectors and flat-panel television type displays once every minute. If the display does not respond, assume it is being stolen and automatically email security
- Interactive whiteboards, mice, and keyboards are generally trustworthy, but who is really checking that USB stick that automatically downloads this or that app to the laptops?
- Don’t assume that the person in charge of your computer network is the best one to test the AV installation for bugs or security breach points. Hire an expert to test it.
- Backup all files at least once a day to a secure offsite and/or cloud storage facility.
- Microphones and tableboxes should be periodically checked for James Bond type “bugs” that can listen to private meetings. It’s not always the newest technology that you need to worry about!
- Videochat and audio conferencing suites should never be left unlocked while not in use
- Make sure that end users know when a camera is on or when microphones are open.
- Digital signage and way-finding kiosks are updated via website; use unique passwords.
- Unfortunately, most AV equipment racks are made by just a few manufacturers, and each uses one or two different key codes in their door locks. Once you have a set of the common AV rack keys, you can open almost any locked AV equipment rack in the U.S.
- “Security screws” can also limit the amateur thefts, but any real crook will have tools.
These are just a portion of the areas that the AV Design Engineer and Project Manager need to address during a project. The real problems are the bugs and “holes” that are accidentally left in a program, that nobody catches, mainly because, no one is looking for them. That is why it is critical that today’s AV integration firms hire a well-trained, experienced QA (quality assurance) department who will double-check the engineer’s design, the programmer’s code, and the completed installation.
We all make mistakes, its human nature. And even when we don’t make mistakes, we certainly overlook things that others might catch. Having someone else check your AV design, bug test your code, or evaluate your network or website for cybersecurity threats will always uncover more than checking it yourself. If you are not putting up “constant vigilance” against the hackers, and paying an expert to test your systems, then you are just living in denial, thinking that your systems are working properly and secure. If these hackers can break into insurance companies and Target, you have to assume that they are trying to hack into your systems as well, (or that they already have!)
Why Do You Need An AV Consultant?
By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D
I recently came across this advertisement from a 1956 Better Homes & Gardens magazine:
Although the setting is a home, and the topic of the ad is cutlery, I believe the headline still holds true today, especially in commercial projects. Larger projects will have multiple architects, engineers, and consultants, each working on different disciplines. There are structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers, acoustical consultants, landscape designers, lighting specialists, and telecom and data experts. And last but not least, there is often an audiovisual/technology consultant on the team.
Nowadays, the AV consultant works hand in hand with the information technology designer, who engineers the structured cabling, category 6, and fiber optic networks. For smaller projects, the role of AV designer and IT consultant are one in the same. So what size project do you need to hire an independent AV consultant, and when do you bring them on to the project?
Generally speaking, any new construction project team should include an AV/Technology consultant from Day 1, because everything in life these days revolves around technology. Retrofits and remodels are even tougher, because the technology is usually an afterthought. So its best to think of it early!
Here is a list of audio, video, and control systems that will be specified by the project’s AV Consultant:
- Properly sized projection screens
- Projectors with correct lenses
- Flat-panel television type displays
- Interactive whiteboards and software
- Microphones and table-top connections
- Videochat and audio conferencing
- Digital signage and way-finding kiosks
- Ceiling speakers, spacing and placement
- Wall-mounted speakers including angles
- Floor boxes and wall-mounted input plates
- Conduit sizing and cable/wire pull schedule
- Power requirements for audiovisual racks
- HVAC coordination for studios, mixing booths
- Acoustical ceiling tiles and fiberglass wall panels
- Audio mixing consoles and digital signal processors
- AV touch panels and camera controllers if needed
These are just a few (okay more than a few) of the things that an AV consultant will specify and draw using CAD or Revit. You can hire an AV consultant at any time in the project, but remember, it’s always best to start that “audiovisual integration” sooner, than later, so it doesn’t look like an afterthought!