The Risks of a Cyber Attack in Buildings and How to Protect Yourself

It’s thrilling how the digital age has reshaped our lives. Among the most notable advancements are smart buildings. These architectural marvels seamlessly intertwine technology with infrastructure to create unparalleled conveniences and operational efficiencies. Equipped with sensors, actuators, and interconnected devices, smart buildings have the capability to self-regulate lighting, heating, cooling, security, and even manage waste. They use data-driven insights to reduce energy consumption, optimize space usage, and enhance the well-being of those inside.

However, like all technological leaps, the digitization of buildings comes with its set of challenges. As these systems become more interconnected, they become vulnerable to cyber threats. Let’s explore why these threats exist and learn how to protect yourself, your building, and your assets.


Smart Building Security Risks

When facility managers and vendors leverage remote access to control Building Automation Systems (BAS), they can create vulnerabilities. Without monitoring, logging, and sometimes operating their system on a public IP, it stands out as a prime target for cyber attackers.

However, the threats don’t end there. With the introduction of IoT devices, we might inadvertently be setting up welcoming environments for cyber adversaries. Technologies that govern essential functions, such as heating, lighting, and access, can potentially expose our internal systems to undue risks.

As buildings increasingly integrate with smart platforms, they also become more susceptible to cyber threats. This vulnerability can be traced back to the foundational designs of many buildings. Legacy-building protocols, like BACnet and MODBUS, were crafted in an era where security wasn’t a primary concern. Bringing them online or connecting them to third-party platforms now is akin to leaving your back door unlocked.

Further compounding these risks, real estate entities possess vast amounts of personal and financial information. When this data falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to devastating consequences like identity theft, financial fraud, and other malicious exploits.


Hackers’ Motivations

They range from simple curiosity to see if a system can be breached to more criminal intentions like extortion or corporate espionage. Some hackers might just be out to cause disruption, while others are after brand sabotage or data collection. In some instances, they might use their knowledge of a building’s system to deceive their way into physical access.


How To Protect Yourself & Your Organization

Property management teams should undergo comprehensive cybersecurity training to ensure a robust first line of defence against cyber threats. By doing so, they equip themselves to promptly recognize and respond to alerts, fostering a culture that remains consistently aware of the best cybersecurity practices.

However, training alone isn’t enough. To further fortify a building’s digital defences, a regular cybersecurity assessment or audit is invaluable. This rigorous process entails a thorough inventory of what’s embedded within a building. Management can chart out and enact a tailored mitigation plan by pinpointing the associated risks and vulnerabilities, ensuring all bases are covered.

But what about when introducing new technologies? Before integrating any new system or technology into a building’s infrastructure, performing a vendor risk assessment is imperative. This isn’t just a cursory glance; it involves a deep dive into the specifics of the new system, its underlying technology, and, crucially, the vendor’s measures to tackle potential security issues. Every facet of the vendor’s best practices should be under the microscope—from device deployment strategies to management protocols, processes, and compliance standards. As a best practice, always remember to check for any relevant device and system certifications, guaranteeing optimal security.

In the same vein, drafting and implementing Operational Technology (OT) policies is essential. Taking this proactive step ensures the consistent and secure use of integrated systems in a building and creates an environment where everyone can feel safe and protected.


The Aftermath of an Attack

The ramifications of a cyber-attack on a building automation system are vast. A building’s operating schedule and critical information can be exploited, leading to significant disruptions in facility operations. Changes in configurations and environment can lead to discomfort but also pose tangible health risks. In addition, equipment within the building could sustain damage, further elevating repair costs and downtime. Perhaps most concerning is that a mere shift in temperature has the potential to obliterate data or cause equipment malfunctions. This is especially critical in environments like data centers or healthcare facilities where precision and continuity of operations are paramount.


As thrilling as the digital transformation of buildings is, it comes with its set of challenges. But with awareness and precaution, we can navigate this digital age confidently. Stay informed, stay secure, and keep checking in for more insights!

Harvey Ehrenholz
, Director, Wireless & Networking
Having filled high-tech roles for 25 years in Electronics and systems integration, Harvey has extensive experience in design and deployment across WLAN, in-building cellular and outdoor broadband wireless solutions. Harvey has worked with the Attain team for 12 years as client, collaborator and now as Director of Wireless and Networks. Harvey is dedicated to mobilizing

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