Design Principles for Secure AV Systems

Secure AV systems start with smart design. Here are some standards that’ve been around forever but easily apply to modern audiovisual projects.

This article was originally written by Paul Konikowski, and published on Commercial Integrator on March 1, 2019

In my last CI article, we reviewed cyber threats and vulnerabilities in AV systems. Many of the known vulnerabilities, or “vulns” can be fixed with a firmware upgrade, securing your network, and/or enabling passwords; but what else can AV manufacturers, consultants, and integrators do to achieve secure AV systems?

One thing that can be done is to adopt a secure mindset from the get-go when designing secure AV systems, keeping the following design principles in mind.

These principles were outlined by Jerome H. Saltzer and Michael D. Schroeder in an IEEE paper way back in 1975. We will apply those secure design principals to AV systems here.

Economy of mechanism

Keep designs simple, which also means keeping your programming code as small as possible, making it easier to test and analyze. Simpler design means that less can go wrong.

Fail-safe defaults

The default access to a resource should be no access. A good example of something that violates this principle is a wireless router that does not require a password and/or encrypt the traffic by default.

Complete mediation

This means every access to a resource is checked against the access control mechanism, every time, and all attempts to bypass security are prevented.

Open design

“Security by obscurity” does not work. Adapt an open-source attitude so your security does not depend on secrecy. Code and designs should be open for scrutiny by your community. It’s much better to have a friend or colleague find an error, then it is to wait for a bad actor to discover it.

Separation of privilege

Access to rooms, systems, or files should depend on more than one condition. If someone gains access to the AV rack, can they simply access the components using a console cable? Or did you go a step further, and enable passwords, as well as encryption of those passwords?

Least privilege

Users (and programs) should only be given the minimum access rights to complete their tasks. The default access should be none, and then access should be granted as needed, on an individual basis, or based on well-defined roles within the organization. Temporary access can also be granted.

Least common mechanism

This means that one should minimize the amount of mechanisms and/or equipment that is used by more than one user. A good example of this would be a “room PC” in a training room used by multiple instructors. Does each instructor log in with their own credentials?

Psychological acceptability, a.k.a. ease of use

Users will avoid security measures that get in the way of convenience. A physical analogy would be a dead bolt that requires a key on both the outside and the inside. Some people won’t bother locking it from the inside, especially if their key gets stuck in the lock.

Other best practices like layering, isolation, encapsulation, modularity, and auditability should also be kept in mind.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like these related posts on PKaudiovisual:

Identifying Cyber Attacks, Risks, Vulnerabilities in AV Installations

5 Steps to Better Cyber Risk Management

The Best Data Breach Incident Response Plans Require These Steps



Proofpoint ($PFPT) Releases Solution To Detect and Respond To Compromised Microsoft Office 365 Accounts

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In a press release issued earlier today, Proofpoint (NASDAQ:PFPT) “announced the availability of Proofpoint Cloud Account Defense (PCAD) to detect and proactively protect Microsoft Office 365 accounts, preventing attackers from causing financial and data loss.”

So What Does This Have To Do With The Folks In AV Land?

Back when I was an audio/video installer (cue the instrumental music), a well-known manufacturer of AV racks would use a handful of key codes for the locking doors on the front and rear of the AV racks. Once an installer had the basic set of keys, he or she could basically unlock any AV rack made by that manufacturer. This was very helpful when troubleshooting AV racks, because the keys were often lost by clients.

Since the AV Rack enclosure keys were so common, they were more of a theft deterrent, and provided no way of truly stopping the theivery, nor was there any trace left behind indicating that someone had unlocked the front or back door.

Many AV integrators will add “security screws” which only prevent someone who was not smart enough, or just plain too lazy, to buy the associated security bit/driver. I remember some of my former coworkers taking it a step further, and hammering the mounting screw posts down until they were bent, just to stop another contractor who kept removing the integrator’s 1RU vanity plate.

About 15-20 years ago, some higher-education IT departments were the first groups that I saw to utilize the LAN ports on the data projectors for security purposes. They would ping the projectors once every minute or so, and if for some reason the projector did not respond, an email was automatically sent to the campus police department, telling them a projector thief may be in such and such room. If the police department was quick enough to respond, they might catch them in the act.

*Cough-cough* It’s All About Convergence *Cough-Cough*

Nowadays, AV rack keys and walking projectors are the least of our worries. As stated in today’s Proofpoint press release, “Cybercriminals have pioneered a new way to compromise corporate email systems, this time by using brute force attacks to steal Microsoft Office 365 login credentials of corporate users and then logging in as an imposter on the system. These new hacking techniques work even if the company has deployed single sign on or multi-factor authentication (MFA) as part of their security system. Once the hacker has logged in masquerading as a real employee, they have a wide spectrum of choices while operating within a corporation’s email instance to cause financial harm and data loss.”

Just as AV has fully converged with IT, so have our security concerns for both hardware and software. We don’t just sell projectors, flat panels, speakers, and AV racks, we sell cloud-based software solutions like Skype For Business, which will soon be a part of Microsoft Teams. Users use single-sign on or multi-factor authentication to access our conferencing and presentation systems, and collaborate with others in the cloud. We install tablet-style room reservation systems that work with Active Directory and company-wide scheduling systems like Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Server.

Having a compromised O365 account is like having a key to every AV system on the network, as well as valuable data stored in the company cloud. If our AV systems rely on a secure network, single sign-on, and active directory, then AV manufacturers, consultants, and integrators all need to be made aware of the inherent security risks.  Integrated system components need to be fully vetted on test networks that use O365 and Proofpoint’s Cloud Account Defense (PCAD) or similar cloud-security solutions, so that there are no surprises when the systems are brought online. We need to go the extra mile, and “hammer down the screw posts” of AV/IT cyber-security, so-to-speak. Constant vigilance!

For more information on Proofpoint’s Cloud Account Defense solution, click here.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in these similar posts:

Cybersecurity In Audiovisual Systems

We Used To Be Heroes


Registered Trademark of Proofpoint Inc.
The Proofpoint Logo Is A Registered Trademark Of Proofpoint, Inc.


Your Conference Rooms Are So Trendy!

How Monitoring Your Conference Rooms Usage Can Help You Build Better Meeting Spaces In The Future

by Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

Imagine you are the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at a pharmaceutical company, one that is growing rapidly, and you need dozens of new conference rooms and huddle spaces. It is your job to figure out how big the meeting rooms should be, and what sort of technology should be installed in them. Open areas promote collaboration, but there is also a need for privacy, and respect for others who are working nearby. Where should you begin?

You might start by looking at trends in the industry. For instance, sitting is trending down. Standing during meetings is becoming more common, so taller tables with stools should be considered for a portion of your rooms. This will also affect your display wall elevation and camera mounting height. Video collaboration is essential, whether it is a classic hardware codec from Cisco or Polycom, or a software codec like Zoom; you should plan to outfit at least 50% of your rooms with some form of video chat and/or or web conference capability. You can also budget to “scale into” these conference rooms.

The hard question is, how many small, how many medium, and how many large conference rooms do you need? No one wants a big boardroom that only gets used four or fives times a year. Divide/combine/divisible/dividable spaces look good on paper, but often fall short when it comes to day-to-day activities of various lines of business. Should you build two small conference rooms for every one larger conference room? That’s one approach, but…

Wouldn’t it be great to have real statistical data on your meeting rooms, and reports that showed exactly how often the rooms get used, and how much a given room’s technology was actually utilized? Wouldn’t that be great?

Like the Keystone commercials, “Bottled beer taste in a can, wouldn’t that be great!”

Well, just like Keystone utilizes a specially lined can, AV integration experts have the technology to provide these types of usage reports to clients. How they go about it can depend on the technology being installed, a discussion which I will save for future blog post; for this post, let’s keep the discussion to who, what, where, and why.

Who: Although one might think of monitoring and asset management in a corporate environment, there are other environments that can benefit. For instance, K-12 schools and higher education campuses can forecast projector bulb burnouts based on usage. Technology usage might vary from grade to grade, or from teacher to teacher.

What: Getting back to the corporate conference room example, the main piece of data you need to monitor is: when the rooms are occupied or not. This can be accomplished using motion detectors if other audiovisual technology is not available. If there is a touch panel in the room, it may have a motion detector built in, and you can harness that data through the control system using proprietary software.

You can also monitor how much the different components of the technology get used, but that is secondary to the rooms being occupied or not. If you base your room usage reports solely on the technology, your data will be incorrect from the start, because some groups use tech more than others. Its great to know what tech gets used and what does not, but its almost more important to know what rooms get used, and which do not. Then, compare the rooms’ technology, versus the size of the room, and the location.

Where: As you start to amass the data, you will notice trends in the conference rooms. Some of these trends will show up in the numbers, but it is also important to look at the location and physical characteristics of each meeting space. For example, you may have two equal 8-person conference rooms on the same floor, with the only difference between the rooms is that one has windows, the other is internal with no windows. You may notice that one of the two rooms gets used more often, and you might assume it is because of the sunlight. This is a good theory, but you should also consider acoustics. Or, one department may be utilizing the same conference room every day, while another department only meets once a week in the other conference room. So it is important to compare the numbers but also to look at the location within the building, the departments that are nearby, and then spend some time thinking about the why.

Why: You might notice that the smaller rooms are getting booked up for about 4 hours each day, while the larger conference room is booked all day, almost every day. This might suggest you need another large conference room. How you interpret the numbers depends on the situation, but it is always best to work with real data rather than verbal anecdotes like “that second video camera never gets used”. That is great feedback, but is that really true? What if the CTO uses it once a month? What if more training is needed? It is much easier to start the decision making process with real data, but like any metric, you need some time to establish a baseline, so for your first year, you might just collect the data, use it as a baseline, and then compare the following years to the first year.

In the end, you are looking for trends in your conference rooms. You might notice that the collaborative touch displays are getting used more this year than last year, and sub-sequentially, you might anticipate needing more touch displays next year. You will also see what is not so trendy, and you might be able to avoid buying things you don’t need. Over time, the monitoring of the rooms and technology will “pay for itself” because you will be more efficient and accurate in planning for your future meeting spaces.