How Physical Security Bolsters Data Protection


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The importance of physical security is often overlooked when considering data protection. Of course, stringent cybersecurity systems are essential, but these can be quickly rendered meaningless if they are not backed up by robust physical security systems. Data breaches come in all shapes and forms and while cyber threats do represent the majority of these, physical breaches are more frequent than most people would imagine.  Understanding these risks and how to mitigate them is, therefore, an essential component of a robust and “holistic” approach to data protection.

Why physical security matters

Data security is of paramount importance, legal data security requirements need to be met, not to mention the financial and business ramifications. Because of this most organizations have layers of cybersecurity protection to defend against data breaches, but these need to be supported by physical security measures that are just as comprehensive. It is difficult to pin down the percentage of data breaches that are physical attacks.

Most common action varieties in data breaches worldwide in 2019
Most common action varieties in data breaches worldwide in 2019 (Image: Statista)

Some estimates put the figure as high as 10%, but a report published on Statista pinned this figure at 4%. The true number likely lies somewhere in between these two figures. However, even if we take the lower figure, this can be approximated to one in every twenty breaches attributable to physical attacks. No insurer in their right mind would consider this an acceptable risk.

Common types of physical data breaches

Just like its “digital cousin” physical data breaches come in many flavors. This means that businesses are often caught off-guard due to their often-unexpected nature. Recognizing these threats is the first step in bolstering physical security measures. Here are a few of the most common types of threats:

  • Unauthorized access: Intruders gain entry to restricted areas like server rooms or data centers.
  • Device theft: Theft of laptops, smartphones, or external hard drives containing sensitive information.
  • Document theft: Unauthorized removal or copying of physical documents, reports, or files.
  • Dumpster diving: Retrieving discarded documents or storage devices from trash bins.
  • Eavesdropping and surveillance: Overhearing sensitive conversations or capturing data through unauthorized video/audio recordings.
  • Tailgating: Gaining entry by following authorized personnel without proper clearance.

This list cannot be considered comprehensive, a fact that underlies the need for extra vigilance to protect against physical data breaches. Understanding the size and scope of the risk factors is an essential first step. The next step is to understand the physical security measures that can help protect your data from physical threats.

Essential physical security systems

Such a wide-ranging list of threats requires an equally wide-ranging range of security systems. Modern systems integrate various components and use the latest technologies like AI and cloud computing to enhance their effectiveness. AI is already having an impact on problem-solving and creative thinking, but it is also being used to enhance physical security systems.

Of course, the human factor and the physical protection of the premises are just as relevant. The exact protection required will vary from business to business, but common security components that should be considered include:

  • Surveillance systems: Modern surveillance technologies, such as a PTZ camera system, offer advanced monitoring features. These cameras can pan, tilt, and zoom to cover vast areas, ensuring every nook and cranny is under watchful eyes.
  • Access control systems: These systems regulate who can enter specific areas of a facility. By using key cards, biometrics, or codes, they ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive zones.
  • Alarms: Alarm systems detect unauthorized access or breaches and alert security personnel or local authorities. They act as both a deterrent and a rapid response mechanism.
  • Security guards and patrols: Human surveillance remains invaluable. Trained security personnel can respond to threats in real-time and provide an added layer of protection.
  • Perimeter security: This includes fences, gates, and barriers that prevent unauthorized entry into the premises. Coupled with surveillance, they form a formidable first line of defense.

Whilst not all these are relevant to every business, every business that is serious about data protection should evaluate its unique risks and tailor its physical security measures accordingly.

Best practices for the physical protection of data

Now that we have a grounding in the physical data breach threats and the systems that defend against them, let’s look at some of the best practices that can enhance their effectiveness and create a culture of data security and vigilance that bolsters overall security:

  • Regular audits: Periodically review and assess physical security measures to identify vulnerabilities.
  • Employee training: Educate employees on the importance of business security, including the physical threats they may face.
  • Access logs: Maintain detailed logs of personnel access to sensitive areas for accountability.
  • Multi-layered security: Combine multiple security measures, such as surveillance with access control, for comprehensive protection.
  • Emergency protocols: Establish clear procedures for responding to security breaches or threats.

By employing these best practices, the risks of a physical data security breach can be minimized.

Locking the door before the data has bolted: The importance of physical security measures

With at least one in twenty data breaches being physical, the importance of mitigating this risk cannot be overstated. In an era where digital threats dominate headlines, it’s crucial to remember that tangible, real-world security measures are just as vital. By integrating robust physical security systems and adhering to best practices, businesses can create a holistic defense strategy.

Photo credit: The feature image is symbolic and has been done by Christopher Isak with Midjourney for TechAcute.

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This article has been sponsored and was submitted to us by a third party. We appreciate all external contributions but the opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of TechAcute.
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