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Infrastructure risk, Cloud, and in-your-pocket monitoring: What took so long?

Steve Cassidy, Freelance Journalist


If there is any part of an infrastructure project that ages faster than the surveillance and security system, we would know about it pretty quickly. Dams would be failing a couple of years after completion; our countryside would be spotted with collapsed electricity distribution pylons, trapped sheep bleating miserably from their twisted remains. The fact is that infrastructure is built to last, while technology is built to throw away. To put this in stark, real-world terms: Most of the light bulbs on the Vancouver Winter Olympics site were still operational and burning at the time that the original CCTV system for the site was in bits in containers going for scrap.

But, why bring that up now? Well, because generally we don’t. Because, for very obvious reasons, infrastructure owners have no desire to make public the life span of their security kit.


And why would you need to even dwell on it when the risks are few and far between? When history shows that big risks are now largely predictable, and also unavoidable. For example, the massive fires at the chemical factory in Texas would not have happened if it had not been besieged by Hurricane Harvey. What would the benefit have been for the French owners to watch on CCTV, as the horror unfolded, when they could watch it on the world news?

But quite apart from natural disasters (for which most infrastructure installations have passive, specific sensors like water-level gauges or thermometers) the modern threat environment has to be extended to include unwelcome visitors. This changes the emphasis of utility on monitoring: There are very few thermometer telemetry sensors that can spot a miserable-looking bloke, in a damp parka, sizing up your drinking water reservoir.

Or if you prefer management vocabulary: The nature of infrastructure protection provided by CCTV has to rapidly evolve to be effective against modern threats brought by human, flesh and blood causes. The key technology here is smart, automated assessment of a live feed. Modern IP CCTV devices have rapidly evolved to include localised storage and appraisal of the field of regard: It’s bad form to set off the site siren when a fox trots across the car park. Rutting deer have little to do with the psycho planning to dump aluminium powder in your reservoir. What’s needed in these situations is intelligence in depth, all the way through the chain of deployed devices.

What does that actually entail? Intelligence in depth includes image and pattern recognition, number-plate recognition and an intuitive interface to an arbitrarily large store of video. Back at our reservoir, was the guy in the parka there the preceding week? How about three months ago?

Asking these questions of a modern, fully network-aware CCTV system isn’t too difficult. Asking them of an infrastructure camera system even just a few years old - not even as long ago as the Vancouver Winter Olympics - is a complete non-starter, because all too many of these systems are either localised and use analogue video - right from camera through to storage.

This is a double whammy: you can’t use cloud techniques to compress, encrypt or archive data which is isolated from the internet, or stored in many different formats. No cloud techniques, no smart analytics and no total recall options. Against that kind of obstacle, the absence of tablet or smartphone enquiry access, or smarter ideas like alert notifications almost seem trivial.

Take a look at this epic fail at a Russian power station: It’s digital enough, alright, but it’s not fully connected - something the camera wearer probably would have rather liked.

This is where Cloudview completes the picture in an Infrastructure risk monitoring system. Sitting between legacy, multi-format analogue & IP stand-alone systems and modern safe cloud storage, Cloudview takes all those cameras feeds, and bridges their coverage into the digital cloud. Smart analysis & reporting can then be added, just like they are to any other form of digital data, along with secure access for cloud-connected monitoring, remote alerting of responder staff, ad-hoc access for law enforcement: the whole set of features most CCTV installers want to keep away from you, until you agree to a huge rip and replace project. Most infrastructure funding assumes a massive upfront spend and then a long tail of running costs only: factoring in attack or disaster hardening spend, partway through a lifecycle measured sometimes in centuries, is an excellent way to make sure your bid is not accepted. Early warning of trouble, starts to look much more attractive in this situation, and (Hollywood movies notwithstanding) having a guy desperately cranking a field telephone in his wellies, as the dam is cracking, is not a good way to get notified of problems.