In focus – Cameras and critical infrastructure

In focus – Cameras and critical infrastructure

The stakes are never higher than when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure. Timothy Compston takes a look at the camera technology that is making waves in this vital sector

Given the critical nature and sheer scale of the infrastructure being protected – from airports to petrochemical plants – it is not surprising that these applications tend to be early adopters of high performance cameras and technology, whether we are talking about 4K or even 8K resolution models; the application of AI (Artificial Intelligence) driven video analytics at the edge through powerful algorithms and specialised chipsets (system-on-a-chip (SOC)); the roll-out of visual and thermal cameras in the same housings and the combination of radar and cameras for 360 degree coverage, including to combat the rising drone challenge.

The threat vectors faced by today’s critical infrastructure sites and equipment are certainly wide ranging. Hassan El-Banna, business development manager for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Genetec, agrees that there are a wealth of security concerns here, including: perimeter security, terrorism threats, theft, safety breaches, and trespassing: “Whether it is the intent to sabotage or theft, the traditional job of security systems and surveillance cameras is to keep threats at bay.”

Of course even when the number of attacks is relatively low, if any should succeed the ramifications are so severe that it is imperative that the right protective measures are in place, including cameras, as even a slight vulnerability across physical or cyber space is liable to be exploited by criminals, terrorists and even state actors.

A snapshot of major incidents that have hit the Middle East and wider world, serves to underline the clear and present dangers that are out there at the most serious end of the scale. Rewinding to January 2013 we saw, for example, al-Qaeda linked terrorists attacking and taking hostages at a massive gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria, and then holding out for four days before Algerian special forces raided the site. Staying with the petrochemical industry the vulnerability of oil refineries to drones was brought into sharp relief on the morning of 14 September last year when Abqaiq – the world’s largest crude oil stabilisation plant – in eastern Saudi Arabia and the Khurais oilfield, which produces one million barrels of crude oil every day, were hit simultaneously by surprise attacks from the air. At the more sophisticated end of the scale, both the US and Saudi authorities said cruise missiles were also involved.

On the aviation front, airports have also been in the frame with drones straying into restricted airspace by accident or design, causing disruption globally, leading to London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Dubai airport all having to stop flights temporarily. Then, at the more serious end of the spectrum, there have been numerous bomb attacks on airports and aircraft, a case in point being the twin blasts in the departure hall at Brussels Zaventem International Airport. Here in the Middle East, there was, of course, the downing of the ill-fated A321 Russian airliner over Sinai. At the time, the chief of Russia’s security services (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov confirmed that traces of explosives had been found in the plane’s debris.

Looking in more detail at where video surveillance measures can help to shore-up the security of critical infrastructure we are seeing ever-higher resolution cameras coming into the frame for wide area monitoring. A good example of the direction of travel here is the Wisenet TNB-9000 from Hanwha Techwin. Launched back in April, the vendor is promoting the Wisenet TNB-9000 as the industry’s first ultra-high resolution 8K camera. Equipped with a full-size 43.3mm CMOS sensor it is being targeted at large-scale open environments like airports – or sports stadia – where there is a high risk of terrorist activity. According to Uri Guterman, head of product and marketing for Hanwha Techwin Europe, the super high resolution of the Wisenet TNB-9000 means, crucially, that big areas can be covered with sufficient pixel density to enable operators to digitally zoom in to see a sharp image of just a small part of a scene.

In keeping with the industry trend to build more intelligence into the cameras ‘at the edge’, the Wisenet TNB-9000 also features deep learning-based video analytics to allow it to ignore video noise, moving clouds, and animals – all of which might otherwise result in false alarms. Beyond this, Hanwha Techwin says that the camera is supplied with a wide range of built-in Intelligent Video Analytics (IVA) – such as directional detection, enter/exit, appear/disappear, virtual line and motion detection – plus, interestingly, audio analytics to recognise sounds like raised voices, screams, glass breaking, gunshots and explosions, that can generate an appropriate alert to allow security personnel to respond in a timely way.

Cyber security

Of course, cyber security remains a major concern for critical infrastructure so there is big focus on ensuring that cameras do not, unwittingly, introduce cyber vulnerabilities that allow hackers access to the wider site network. Genetec has certainly been a strong voice in this area and Hassan El-Banna, business development manager for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, stresses that a poorly secured camera, unencrypted communications between a server and client application or out of date firmware, can be exploited by cyber criminals: “Our research at Genetec shows almost 4 in 10 security cameras can be at risk of cyber-attack due to outdated firmware.” El-Banna adds that installing the latest firmware is not just about accessing exciting new features: “It ensures the latest cyber security protection measures are implemented as soon as they become available, a crucial step in ensuring an organisation’s resilience against cyber-attacks.” Expanding on the ramifications of a camera cyber-security gap, El-Banna says that this can lead to critical infrastructure protection violations such as: the stealing of information, the altering or destroying of electronic information on networks, the shutting down or degrading of computer networks and the manipulation of physical equipment through an organisation’s controlled network.

Still with cyber security and cameras, when network video camera vendor Axis Communications announced the 7th generation of its ARTPEC chip last year the company was quick to emphasise that the chip was self-developed – rather than outsourced – for an added layer of control over cyber security.

As well as ensuring cameras are hardened from a cyber perspective, certain deployments require additional physical protection for cameras. Staying with Axis, this month (July) it unveiled an explosion protected positioning camera – the XP40-Q1785 – to deliver 360-degree awareness in hazardous areas, with continuous rotation, 180-degree tilt movement, and 32x optical zoom. Axis says that the camera is NEC, CEC, IECEx, ATEX and EAC Ex certified to ensure safe operation in potentially combustible environments.

View from above

Above ground, specialised cameras are now being married to platforms like tactical aerostats – or blimps – for persistent surveillance and drones to provide a more detailed birds eye view of what is happening below them. Aerostats have already been widely deployed by the military to protect key bases and for border security but at the last Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro the potential for civil applications was demonstrated when four six-metre sized OMNI aerostats from ALTAVE – the Brazilian lighter-than-air aerospace company – were deployed, with a WAMI (Wide Area Motion Imagery) Simera sensor of 13 cameras from US-based Logos Technologies. According to ALTAVE’s director and co-founder Bruno Avena de Azevedo the result was that each aerostat could cover an area of 40 square kilometres to deliver ‘big picture’ situation awareness throughout the Olympics, a capability that has obvious potential in applications like critical infrastructure sites where an early warning of a threat could prove invaluable.

Staying in the air, the interest amongst camera manufacturers in the utility of drones as a platform for their solutions, for example, was evident when FLIR – the thermal camera specialist – acquired Aeryon Labs the Canadian developer of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for the military, public safety and critical infrastructure markets at the start of 2019.

Drone challenge

Back down to earth, ironically, cameras are also an integral part of the latest counter-drone solutions to protect airports and other infrastructure. One of the leading players in this space Dedrone and its DroneTracker solution can work with a variety of sensing and threat mitigation technologies including PTZ cameras, in the case of cameras the DroneTracker software has an intelligent video analysis capability to help detect and locate drones in real-time. For AUDS, the British Anti-UAV Defence System, which was rumoured to have been deployed at London’s Gatwick Airport after serious disruption caused by drones – although this has not been confirmed by the vendor – detection is undertaken initially by a micro-Doppler radar with the task of identifying and tracking the drone – or drones – in question falling to precision infrared and daylight cameras.

Looking more broadly at the type of cameras being rolled out at airports, Hassan El-Banna, business development manager for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Genetec, says the focus is on the increased deployment of advanced video camera technology: “Key elements of cameras – lens and focus – with a greater speed and depth of field are being used. There have also been significant advances in sensor technology, sensor quantity, and image processing.”

Rapidly deployable CCTV towers too are gaining traction for critical infrastructure as they can help to quickly ramp-up security should the threat level change, protect vulnerable parts of an electricity network like substations, or provide security to locations where construction work is underway. One vendor which specialises in this area is WCCTV whose HD Site Towers solution is already providing enhanced security for UK Power Networks and its substations.

“Rapidly deployable CCTV towers are gaining traction for critical infrastructure as they can help to quickly ramp-up security should the threat level change ”

As the market for ground-based thermal cameras continues to heat up new sector-specific solutions are being created. Last December FLIR Systems unveiled two dome shaped PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) dual sensor camera ranges that the vendor said are focused on critical infrastructure sites, such as utility substations and transportation hubs which have significant – and often increased – security requirements. According to FLIR, the longer range FLIR Elara DX-Series and the more compact, shorter-range, FLIR Saros DM-Series are built around thermal imaging and 4K high resolution sensors. FLIR points out that, when it comes to perimeter security protection, there is the potential with both camera series to see through fog, rain, sun glare and snow, which means that they can spot heat signatures, and therefore security threats, around the clock.

Other thermal camera lines from FLIR have already proven their worth in applications like oil refineries, a case in point being a deployment at LUKOIL Neftochim Burgas, in Bulgaria, which is the largest oil refinery in Southeastern Europe. “Lukoil Neftochim Burgas is a strategic site for Bulgaria. That is why the security requirements are so demanding,” says Petar Bakalov, executive director at Lukom-A, Lukoil Neftochim Burgas’s dedicated security agency. Before the thermal cameras Lukoil Neftochim Burgas relied on two independent systems for perimeter security, basically two fences with sensor cable systems about five metres from each other. For its petrochemical plant in Burgas, Lukoil Neftochim Burgas called on main FLIR distributor for Bulgaria, Telelink EAD, and its partner system integration company 2 Plus Bulgaria AD. Together, they proposed FLIR’s FC and F series cameras in combination with advanced video analytics software to achieve a higher level of perimeter protection.

On the shoreline

More broadly, thermal cameras are also seen as beneficial for security-critical locations that border onto or cross water. Given that a significant proportion of the Middle East region’s critical infrastructure is near water it is not surprising that enhancing security on the shoreline is high on the agenda. Thermal cameras are reckoned to have an advantage over conventional cameras here, where it is far from plain sailing if they are combined with video analytics, as there can be significant motion activity which comes from waves leading to a great deal of noise. Thankfully, thermal cameras, which are more affordable these days, can help to address many of the issues when it comes to detecting a potential threat, subsequently conventional cameras may take over to identify and validate the detection.

In the context of bridges and seaports, the latest infrared (IR) cameras have a key role to play here too. Pelco’s Spectra IR camera represents Pelco’s first offering with look-up capabilities in the Spectra Professional line. Pelco says that the Spectra IR camera, when combined with automated infrared zoom and digital image stabilisation, opens up previously untapped opportunities to monitor events occurring 15 degrees above the horizon – all day and all night – a feature that Pelco reckons is important for the effective surveillance of bridges and seaports.



Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, many events have been cancelled or postponed. Please check the event website for further details