Physical Security Assessments & Problems It Can Uncover

By Bernhard Mehl
May 14, 2018

By now, you should know that security is one of the most important factors in the modern office, from tiny startups to major corporations. It’s your first line of defense against intruders, natural disasters and any other disruptive events that could derail your business. But if you’re like other business owners, you’re probably wondering how, exactly, to go about making sure that your security system is up to par. The answer? Conducting a physical security assessment.


Like the name implies, this is a comprehensive physical inspection and evaluation of every aspect of your security system, its controls, and their parameters throughout your space or facility. This is done on both an individual and a macro level, giving you the intel you need to make better decisions about how to run your facility. Generally, the physical security risk assessment is the combined process of both practicing an intensive audit and analyzing the results that come from it, which pertains to the entire physical security system of a particular building. In order to make sure you’re going about it correctly, use these tips to keep your space safer from harm.

Understanding Physical Security Audits

Physical security, like the name implies, is the system of hardware, technology and practices that protects the physical assets within your space, including equipment, files and other hardware. Auditing these systems means fully examining each piece of the larger system, which can often be quite large even in smaller offices. It is a well-defined and crucial process that is commonly adopted to be in compliance with requirements from many regulatory bodies and standards organizations, including certification authorities and even government agencies. All kinds of physical security systems that have been installed are examined deeply while conducting a physical security assessment.

There are many kinds of threats, including natural ones like fire and human ones like burglary, to the resources, assets and sensitive information that make your business run. Jeopardizing these makes your business vulnerable to major losses or even litigation, which you probably want to avoid. The most common threats can strike either through your wireless network or through physical intrusion.


Hacking into software and other internet-enabled resources is much easier if a hacker is able to physically enter into your facility, as opposed to one operating from far away. Because of this, the physical security system in your space should be active, effective and alert at all times. Monitoring this responsiveness is done by implementing frequent physical security audits. These audits can help you find flaws and deficiencies in your security system so that you can easily resolve them before they cause a major lapse in safety. A robust security system is necessary to safeguard your assets and sensitive information.‍


Physical Security Management vs. Physical Security Assessments

Physical security management and physical security assessments can look similar at first glance, but they are unique in certain fundamental ways. In a physical security assessment, the availability, implementation and maintenance of the security systems are measured, while security management often maintains a security system on a daily basis. Security audits finds the security gaps and loopholes in the existing security mechanism and then suggest fixes for specific problems. On the other hand, security management is a more regular process that keeps your system online. While both are necessary to run an effective business, auditing and assessing your physical security system is important if you want to improve the safety of your facility.

Finding Security Issues

Physical security audits can uncover numerous problems associated with your system or your procedures. A robust security system may include numerous security controls, such as human guards, physical locks, intelligent locks, fences, a CCTV system, proper lighting and alarms, among other components. Conducting a physical security audit shows you exactly what the security gaps in your facility are, which might mean that you have to invest in more equipment or better operational guidelines.


Operational issues can take many forms, but they all have to do with the people who run your access control system. Poor motivation, supervision and monitoring of your space’s security guards can lead to improper adherence to security policy procedures Low levels of precaution and care about your valuable assets such as laptops, furniture, office equipment and shared amenities by employees can lead to easy theft. Employees and the security staff could be improperly trained or simply not aware of the existing security policy and procedures, leading to poor management of assets. Your employees might forget or refuse to wear their ID badges at all times, leaving the cards open to theft and making it harder to authenticate identities of the people in the office. Higher management might simply have failed to implement proper procedures suggested by a previous audit, leaving holes in the system.


Visitors, too, might prove to be an issue. Many third party contractors and employees don’t wear their assigned access badges all the time, causing the system to work improperly. Their photos might also be unrecognizable on their temporary badges. Poor control over the visitors that enter your space is another major problem often found in security audits. Many employees either escort their guests with them or they don’t make the proper entries in the visitor registers.


Security screening of the employees of a third-party contractor is another critical issue for businesses, and this process is one that often requires maintenance by outside experts. Many employees working with contractors are not fully screened in normal situations. To work around this issue, only hire contractors that you have personally screened or ones that you already trust. If this is not possible due to time constraints, make sure that you’re reading reviews and checking that the service you have hired is legitimate and well-known. While it’s unlikely that anyone would pose as a contractor to gain access to your facility, an untrustworthy visitor might be tempted to take or look at sensitive information. Cut down on this kind of issue in your physical security risk assessment by doing the proper homework before any paperwork is signed.


Other problems stem from the equipment that you use in your security system. A lack of security when handling and movement documents and files within the company, beyond its walls and through the internet is a problem that many facility owners encounter. Improper or faulty monitoring of your security system by untrained system administrators is another issue that can cause all sorts of problems. The regular testing, maintenance and monitoring of the security equipment at all points are often not conducted as defined in your policy. Inadequate lighting inside and outside the building, parking lot and access points can lead to easier burglary and theft. Intrusion detection systems, fire alarm systems and CCTV monitoring systems, among other equipment, are often not properly tested, meaning they might be inoperative without anyone noticing.‍


Scheduling Security Assessments

The requirement of physical security assessment varies by the type of organization you run, the area you call home, local regulations and rules and even industry compliance measures. Many companies find that it is easiest and most effective to conduct their security assessments on an annual basis. Some businesses with greater security requirements or organizations that are very large tend to run a physical security assessment twice per year or even quarterly.

The scheduled security assessments should be done in accordance with the rules and regulations of your local authorities and leading industry best practices. Some assessments, too, are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but those are regulated by specific industry. In order to err on the side of caution, perform a full audit at least once a year. On a monthly or even weekly basis, however, you can choose to do your own smaller inspections, which can help catch issues before they turn into security risks.

Conducting Security Audits

Now it’s time to start planning your first comprehensive security assessment. Taking all of the above into consideration, you need to do a bit of careful planning to make sure that you aren’t accidentally leaving anything out, no matter how small. There are a few major categories that should be considered in your physical security audit checklist, and each category should be further expanded by asking questions about how it works in your office. Carefully consider each of the following categories: Management policy, physical security policy, risk assessment, access control, staff security, data and information security, emergency communication, rapid response and technology.

For each aspect of your physical security system, you need to list all of the corresponding elements or policies. Get started with a few simple steps, which will all help you gain a better understanding of your building. Assess the physical security risk level for each piece of technology or hardware that you have installed. Draft a security management policy if you don’t have one implemented already, then make sure your controls work with this new outline. Audit and assess the security level of each employee or access level, making sure that no one has more or less access than they actually need. And if you find major issues, correct them accordingly as soon as possible.

Check every fire extinguisher in your space. Assess windows for cracks. Swipe a card in each card reader. Test the strength of your door locks. Try to trigger each alarm. Assess how each audit goes and adjust as needed, which will help you grow sustainably. By getting up close and personal with every piece of the larger system, you gain an understanding of how everything works in harmony and what, if anything, needs to be changed or updated.



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IT Security Assessments

Just like your physical security is crucial to the safety and longevity of your business, so is digital security. Even though your assets might be digital, much of their safeguarding is still physical, so IT security assessments can easily be integrated into your physical plan. Check the connections of all of your access control hardware and software, verifying that all of the cables and wires are plugged in properly and that each system works as it should. Streamline your entire system by removing any unnecessary components that might slow it down, especially when emergencies happen.


Make sure that all of your passwords are impossible to crack, and try to set up a schedule that tells you when to change them. Provide your server room with the proper support, including physical upgrades like smart cooling systems and fans, plus access control locks on the doors. Educate your employees on phishing scams and take measures to ensure that they won’t click on any links that might grind your internal system to a halt. Despite the fact that you’re focusing on physical security, IT security is just as important and makes a logical next step for the modern business.


Finishing Up

Creating a plan for your first comprehensive physical security assessment can be challenging work, especially for businesses that are just starting out or have moved to a new space. But the benefits of this process are simply too good to pass up. Regular and consistent physical security assessments are critical in safeguarding the resources associated with your company, as well as with the employees that work under you and rely on a safe workplace in which to get their work done.


Without a comprehensive policy of physical security assessment, it is nearly impossible to manage your businesses without encountering high levels of risk. For your employees and clients to trust you with their data, it’s worth the effort to check each aspect of your physical and IT safety plan, making any adjustments as needed. Combined with an access control system, this process makes facilities much safer in the long run. So do the hard work up front and sit back as your physical security system makes your office safer as the years go by.

Bernhard Mehl

Bernhard is the co-founder and CEO of Kisi. His philosophy, "security is awesome," is contagious among tech-enabled companies.

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