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We not only live in a world addicted to data, but one that often ignores cyber wellness.

From our smartphones to the digital personal assistants (Siri, Alexa) that have been marketed as tools to free our time for leisurely pursuits—the jury’s still very much out on whether they’re helping most of us achieve that goal—an increasing number of interactions in our daily lives involve internet-connected digital devices that track human behaviour. Most of this data is benign and has little application outside of the marketing world. When I mention visiting a destination on a social media account, for example, I suddenly find ads for that destination in my news feed. It’s annoying, maybe, but not necessarily a major breach of privacy.

Now, what happens when smart devices start tracking and collecting information across a commercial property?

Connected commercial properties

No need to wonder because that’s likely already happening in a building you occupy, and perhaps the one you’re sitting in right now. Everything from your building’s door card readers and fire alarm panels to its HVAC system, surveillance cameras and thermostats could well be connected to the Internet. The potential for efficiencies, cost savings and property performance improvements are almost too numerous to summarize in a single article. But so, too, are the cybersecurity risks.

While security firms such as ours still guard against so-called traditional thieves—thieves who break into a facility intent on stealing merchandise or equipment, or engaging in vandalism, for example—Wincon Security has evolved into an integrated solutions provider in recent years precisely because an equal and fast-growing risk exists in the online realm. Sophisticated malfeasants, many of whom are connected to overseas organized crime rings, are looking for easy targets. That means organizations or commercial property owners reluctant or unwilling to invest in a holistic, digitally-focused security strategy to protect their assets are gravely exposed.

Why wait-and-see never works

Unfortunately, many organizations take a cross-your-fingers approach to security, betting that they’re too small or their data is too invaluable to draw the attention of cyber thieves. That is until they’re hit. Then most are left scrambling trying to restore systems, or pay ransoms to recover data, and rebuild their businesses after an online attack.

So great is the threat that BOMA Canada recently published a Cyber Wellness Guide for commercial property owners. In it, the organization notes:

The IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) currently in the market are geared towards user value, and haven’t necessarily been looked at from a thorough cyber security perspective. That increases the onus on building managers to have a robust plan to prevent and deal with cyber issues.

In addition to the expanding network of smart devices, attackers are also becoming more persistent and patient, whether it is to gain ransom from you or to cause other damage. In addition to local hackers who may use phishing attacks or ransomware to cause potential damage, there are international threats too as proximity does not matter when dealing with cyber risks, and no sector is immune.

Indeed, it’s not alarmist to assume that a hacker could breach your building’s cyber defenses (assuming they’re in place, which isn’t always a given), steal data and even coordinate with thieves to break into your facility. If your organization happens to deal in high-value or sensitive materials, this is of particular concern. So, what’s a property owner or manager to do?

 Be proactive to bolster cyber wellness

As the BOMA report notes, it all starts with preparation. Having tools such as firewalls, anti-virus software or endpoint security on laptops and other vulnerable devices in place is crucial. Huge advancements are also being made with artificial intelligence technology to detect breaches long before they become obvious or increase risk. Of course, staff training is another important consideration—and that includes making sure that security personnel are as well trained in mitigating cyber threats as they are in monitoring traditional causes of building vulnerability or standing on guard to prevent incidents such as physical break-ins.

Having a significant security budget in place is another important consideration that many property owners overlook—particularly if they’re prone to trying to looking for ways to maximize profitability at the expense of all other considerations. That budget should include line items for both physical and cyber security measures. From there your team will need a cyber security plan that can be implemented at a moment’s notice if a data breach occurs. The plan should be customized to your specific needs and be comprehensive enough to address a range of possible scenarios.

Most importantly, be sure to work with a security provider who understands the risks involved as the IIoT becomes ubiquitous, cyber threats increase and the need for solutions integration becomes more important than ever. Because the last thing any busy commercial property owner should waste time fretting over is whether a hacker in some far-flung locale is preparing to compromise the security of their data or their facility.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security