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What Are Physical Security Measures?

This part is simple, at least. Every building needs a way to keep unwanted guests outside. Most organisations also need to restrict access to certain areas within their premises, even to people who have already been invited inside. Because of this, you need to adopt a set of security measures to grant access to protected amenities to authorised personnel only, ones that have been handpicked for this privilege. These security measures should be introduced following a broader plan designed to protect your equipment, resources and any other assets within a production facility or office space. All these measures, working in tandem, make up your physical security strategy.

The best, most viable physical security strategies use technology and specialised hardware to achieve their safety goals. You will need to protect your assets from intruders, internal threats, cyber-attacks, accidents and natural disasters, which in turn requires a mix of technology and in-person monitoring that requires careful planning and placement of security staff and other tactics. For your preventive measures and countermeasures to be effective, you also need to introduce a security perimeter, the size and scope of which may vary depending on your specific needs and possible threats to your facility. Physical security bundles many conditions together, so make sure you consider your space as a whole, not as separate parts.

Physical Security System Components

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Physical security is always a component of a more comprehensive security strategy, but it makes up a sizable piece of this larger plan. Security experts agree that the three most essential components of a physical security plan are access control, surveillance, and security testing, which work together to make your space more secure.

Access control may start at the outer edge of your security perimeter, which you should establish early in this process. You can use fencing and video surveillance to monitor access to your facility and secure the outdoor area, especially if you have on-site parking or other outside resources. A comprehensive access control system and strategy would also include the use of advanced locks, access control cards, mobile phones, or biometric authentication and authorisation. Most spaces start their access control at the front door, where cardholders swipe their unique identification badges or mobile phone to gain entry. From there, you can place card readers on almost anything else, including offices, conference rooms and even kitchen doors. Each employee swipes out using the same process, eliminating the need for clocking out or wondering if anyone is still inside the building after closing hours.

Surveillance is another essential component to consider in your space. Modern security systems can take advantage of multiple sensors, including ones that detect motion, heat and smoke, for protection against intrusion and accidents alike. These sensors can hook up directly to your alarm system, allowing them to trigger alarms and alert you and other system administrators without any human intervention. Naturally, your security strategy should also include adopting surveillance cameras and notification systems, which can capture crimes on tape and allow you to find perpetrators much more quickly. Cloud-based access control systems update over the air and provide real-time reports, allowing you to monitor the system from your mobile dashboard.

When disaster strikes, you need to act fast and follow your adopted procedures. That is why you need to test your disaster recovery plan regularly, both on a technological level and a human one. Drills should test your ability to react to natural disasters and emergencies caused by internal or outside threats that can threaten data or personal safety. Thankfully, access control systems allow you to tell who is still in your building and who is outside in the case of an emergency that requires evacuation. You should also check for weak points concerning access to critical business resources, such as server rooms, data centres, production lines, power equipment and anything else that may impact your daily operations. If you’re outfitting a sensitive area, such as a school or a place of worship, you may want to consider a system with a lockdown feature.

What Is Physical Security, And How Does It Work?

Physical security protects personnel, hardware, software, networks and data from physical actions and events that could cause severe loss or damage to an enterprise, agency or institution. This includes protection from fire, flood, natural disasters, burglary, theft, vandalism and terrorism. While most of these are covered by insurance, physical security's prioritization of damage prevention avoids the time, money and resources lost because of these events.

The physical security framework is made up of three main components: access control, surveillance and testing. The success of an organization's physical security program can often be attributed to how well each of these components is implemented, improved and maintained.

Access Control

The key to maximising one's physical security measures is limiting and controlling what people have access to sites, facilities and materials. Access control encompasses the steps taken to limit the exposure of certain assets to authorised personnel only. Examples of these corporate barriers often include ID badges, keypads and security guards. However, these obstacles can vary significantly in terms of method, approach and cost.

The building is often the first line of defence for most physical security systems. Items such as fences, gates, walls and doors all act as physical deterrents to illegal entry. Additional locks, barbed wire, visible security measures and signs all reduce the number of casual attempts carried out by cybercriminals.

More sophisticated access controls involve a technology-supported approach. ID card scanners and near-field communication (NFC) ID cards are physical authentication methods that security teams can use to verify the identities of individuals entering and exiting various facilities. Some Swedish companies have recently experimented with embedding NFC microchips below the skin of their employees -- making it extremely difficult to forge or replicate their credentials. Invasive devices like this, however, are much less prevalent among labour unions, given the degree of physical pain and bodily concern.

Using tactically placed obstacles, organisations can make it more difficult for attackers to access valuable assets and information. Similarly, these barriers increase the time it takes for threat actors to carry out acts of thievery, vandalism or terrorism successfully. The more obstacles in place, the more time organisations have to respond to physical security threats and contain them.

But criminals are not the only threat that access controls can minimize. Barriers such as walls and fences can also be used to harden buildings against environmental disasters, such as earthquakes, mudslides and floods. These risks are highly location-dependent. Organisations that divert resources toward such hardening measures should balance the cost and benefit of their implementation before investment.


This is one of the essential physical security components for both prevention and post-incident recovery. Surveillance, in this case, refers to the technology, personnel and resources that organisations use to monitor the activity of different real-world locations and facilities. These examples can include patrol guards, heat sensors and notification systems.

The most common type of surveillance is closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras that record the activity of a combination of areas. The benefit of these surveillance cameras is that they are as valuable in capturing criminal behaviour as they prevent it. Threat actors who see a CCTV camera are less inclined to break in or vandalise a building out of fear of recording their identities. Similarly, if a particular asset or piece of equipment is stolen, surveillance can provide the visual evidence one needs to identify the culprit and their tactics.


Physical security is a preventative measure and incident response tool. Disaster recovery (DR) plans, for example, centre on the quality of one's bodily security protocols -- how well a company identifies, responds to and contains a threat. The only way to ensure that such DR policies and procedures will be effective when the time comes is to implement functional testing.

Testing is increasingly essential, especially when it comes to the unity of an organisation. Fire drills are a necessary activity for schools and buildings because they help to coordinate large groups, as well as their method of response. These policy tests should be conducted regularly to practice role assignments and responsibilities and minimise the likelihood of mistakes.

Why Physical Security Is Important

At its core, physical security is about keeping your facilities, people and assets safe from real-world threats. It includes physical deterrence, detection of intruders, and responding to those threats.

While it could be from environmental events, the term is usually applied to keeping people – whether external actors or potential insider threats – from accessing areas or assets they shouldn’t. It could be keeping the public at large out of your HQ, on-site third parties from places where sensitive work goes on, or your workers from mission-critical areas such as the server room.

Physical attacks could be breaking into a secure data centre, sneaking into restricted areas of a building, or using terminals they have no business accessing. Attackers could steal or damage important IT assets such as servers or storage media, gain access to virtual terminals for mission-critical applications, steal information via USB, or upload malware onto your systems.

Rigorous controls at the outermost perimeter should be able to keep out external threats. At the same time, internal measures around access should reduce the likelihood of internal attackers (or at least flag unusual behaviour).

One of the most common errors a company makes when approaching physical security, penetration testing firm TrustedSec, is to focus on the front door. “They'll put all of the security in the front door; surveillance cameras, security guards, badge access, but what they don't focus on is the entire building.”

Smoking areas, on-site gym entrances, and even loading bays may be left unguarded, unmonitored and insecure, he says. Turnstiles or similar barriers that have movement sensors on the exits can also easily be opened by putting a hand through to the other side and waving it around.

While the cost of successful digital attacks keeps increasing, physical damage to your assets can be just as harmful. One notorious example of physical security failure. site robbed four times in two years, with robbers taking 20 servers in the fourth break-in.

Benefits Of Physical Security Measures

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Beyond the obvious benefit of physical security systems to protect your building, the technology and hardware you choose may include added features that can enhance your workplace security. Especially with cloud-based physical security control, you’ll have added flexibility to manage your system remotely, plus connect with other building security and management systems. 

  • Prevent unauthorized entry - Providing a secure office space is the key to a successful business. Nearly one-third of workers don’t feel safe at work, which can strain productivity and office morale. Providing security for your customers is equally important. Not only should your customers feel secure, but their data must also be securely stored. Data breaches compromise the trust that your business has worked so hard to establish. Implementing a rigorous access control system as part of your physical security plans will allow you to secure your property from unauthorised access, keeping your assets and employees safe and preventing damage or loss.
  • Proactive intrusion detection - As the first line of defence for your building, the importance of physical security in preventing intrusion cannot be understated. Installing a best-in-class access control system ensures that you’ll know who enters your facility and when. With an easy-to-install system like Openpath, your intrusion detection system can be up and running with minimal downtime. Plus, the cloud-based software gives you the advantage of viewing real-time activity from anywhere and receiving entry alerts for types of physical security threats like a door being left ajar, an unauthorised entry attempt, a forced entry, and more. With Open Path's unique lockdown feature, you can instantly trigger a whole system lockdown remotely, so you take care of emergencies quickly and efficiently. Cloud-based and mobile access control systems offer more proactive physical security measures for your office or building.
  • Scaleable physical security implementation - With data stored on the cloud, there is no need for onsite servers and hardware that are costly and vulnerable to attack. Cloud-based physical security control systems can integrate with your existing platforms and software, which means no interruption to your workflow. Both for small businesses experiencing exponential growth and enterprise businesses with many sites and locations to consider, a scalable solution that’s easy to install and quick to set up will ensure a smooth transition to a new physical security system. Cloud-based systems are naturally more flexible compared to legacy systems, which makes it easier to add or remove entries, install new hardware, or implement the system across recent building locations. 
  • Seamless system integrations - Another benefit of physical security systems that operate in the cloud is integrating with other software, applications, and procedures. While a great access control system is essential to any physical security plan, having the ability to connect to other security tools strengthens your entire security protocol. For example, Openpath’s access control features an open API, making it quick and easy to integrate with video surveillance and security cameras, user management systems, and the other tools you need to run your business.
  • Audit trails and analytics - One of the benefits of physical security control systems is that the added detection methods usually include reporting and audit trails of the activity in your building. This data is crucial to your overall security. Being able to easily and quickly detect possible weaknesses in your system enables you to implement new physical security plans to cover any vulnerable areas. If you do experience a breach, having detailed reports will provide the necessary evidence for law enforcement and help you identify the culprit quickly. Analytics on the performance of your physical security measures allow you to be proactive in finding efficiencies, enabling better management and lessening the burden on your HR and IT teams.

Physical Security Measures Every Organisation Should Take

Security For Your Doors

Are your server room doors locked? You should also ensure that there are good locks on the server room door. Some necessary prerequisites need to be checked concerning securing the server room.

  • The room should have low visibility. Don’t announce what’s in the room by putting up signs. For instance — “confidential, sensitive and expensive equipment here”.
  • The room should have high walls and fireproof ceilings, and not too many windows.
  • Appropriate authorities should only be given access to the room and the physical networks inside. If there’s any breach, each compromised lock should be changed.
  • Consider using alternative strategies like window bars, anti-theft cabling, motion detectors and magnetic vital cards.

Monitoring And Surveillance

Are the physical security staff trained to maintain a logbook? An up-to-date list of all security personnel authorised to access sensitive areas should be kept. Unless pre-authorised, never allow equipment to be moved or serviced. The service personnel should produce an original work order or provide the necessary photo ID for verification. Logs of all such activities should be maintained.

Also, locking measures taken for the server room is a significant first step. Still, someone could always breach the security, or authorised access could take undue advantage of that authority. You can have an authentication system incorporated like a smart card, token, or a biometric scan which will be required to unlock the doors and simultaneously make a record of the identity of each person who uses the premises. Motion detection technology and video door surveillance cameras can also be beneficial for monitoring and surveillance.

Keep The Network Devices In The Secured Room

The servers are to be protected, but it’s not just that you have to worry about. A hacker can use a laptop to connect to the wireless network hub and use a packet analyser or sniffer software to intercept and capture data transmitted across the network, decode it and make it readable. Ensure that whichever devices that function on that network are kept in the same locked room. If they are required to be held in different areas, make sure they are kept in a secured closet. 

Physical Security Policies

While the scale and sophistication of your controls and monitoring will vary depending on location and need, there are best practices that can be applied across the board to ensure a robust physical security posture.

Take a risk based-approach and do your research. Map your risk profile and put in appropriate controls. Don’t employ a team of armed guards where a simple card lock with CCTV will do. “A supplier needs to protect themselves to protect their customers, so supply chain due diligence is a must,” says Kenny. “Who are we working with, what sort of internal processes and policies do they follow, what frameworks do they follow around hardening systems?" Make sure that the people you're buying technologies from understand the risks and have things in place like vulnerability management programs, security advisory notifications if something does go wrong.

Make sure access controls are tied to people and customize access. Each ID card or keycode should have a unique person connected to it. Blanket access cards or codes make data leaks more likely and harder to track. If your facility has strict schedules, ensure access is tied to times--for example, no overnight access for caterers.

Have audit trails and keep inventory. Keep logs of not only who accessed what but also of attempts. Repeated failed attempts to access might signal bad actors. Know who is in the procession of all cards, keys and other access items. Revoke access if a card is lost or when employee circumstances change. Claim back keys as soon as possible if someone leaves.

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