Manholes are in your scope!

You have developed and implemented a secure perimeter for your building. The problem I would like to consider could be a few feet away from your secure perimeter. You spend a considerable amount of time and money protecting your information from digital and physical threats, yet your information can be highly vulnerable just a few feet from your door. America’s Critical Infrastructure has been a growing concern for some time. Topping the list for consideration is access to underground communications (telephone lines, cables, fiber optics, switching, relaying, and control systems); electric power (power generating stations, transmission lines, control and transformer systems, power distribution systems); natural gas and related energy (natural or manufactured gas, gasoline, and other petroleum products are transported through subsurface pipelines; centrally produced steam is also distributed through underground pipes); water supply (most of the water distribution system, water storage, and some treatment facilities and raw water transport lines are below ground); wastewater and storm water (disposal of wastewater and storm water runoff is done largely through underground pipes and tunnels); transportation (much rail transportation in urban areas, including commuter, long distance, and cargo traffic, is underground); underground courses (in cities, such course provide unmonitored and uncontrolled access to buildings and facilities).

Most of us overlook the immediate threat of someone gaining access at the point where your information ties into the much larger infrastructure. Is that manhole cover locked down? If someone gained access could they do damage, possibly massive damage? Manhole covers are typically round to prevent them from falling inside the hole, are made primarily from iron, and typically weigh around 100 pounds. Manhole ownership varies from location to location, and since different manholes are owned by different companies or entities, most provide access to only one or two utilities. In some cities, though, a large number of manholes provide access to several elements of the infrastructures. Manhole covers rely on their weight to stay put under foot and motor traffic, and also to thwart unauthorized access by vandals. There are also a number of ways to secure manholes by controlling access to the cover: locking the cover itself, detecting intruders with alarm fiber, or physically sealing or hardening of the manhole.

Unprotected manholes could offer vandals, terrorists a relatively easy way to inflict damage which ranges from the merely disruptive to serious. An attack via a manhole could be aimed to achieve one or more of the following: corruption of communications capabilities (interfering, jamming, or corrupting signals into telecommunications systems); complete disruption of critical utility service (severing electric power, water, gas, or telecommunications lines; destroying key regulatory and control systems); contamination of water or air (introducing a toxic biological or chemical agents into drinking water; release of chemical or biological agents in a mass transit system); theft and misappropriation (tapping information flows; siphoning energy; gaining surreptitious control over information systems); divert attention from another larger attack; disrupt critical utility service, resulting in hampering first response and emergency and rescue missions aimed to assist with another attack; or use conduits to inject and transport gas or chemical vapors or liquids into buildings to force an evacuation, introduce poison, or as a means to facilitate an explosion.

The sheer number of manholes in the United States makes protection of all them a daunting task at best and it may be years before they get to yours. Taking a proactive approach to manholes in your immediate area will cut down risk significantly.

--Chris Hills CPP, CRMP