Identifying Physical Security Access Controls

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Physical security access controls attempt to control entry and exits, and organizations commonly implement different controls at different boundaries. If you’re planning to take the Security+ SY0-501 exam, you should have a good understanding of the importance of physical security controls.

For example, can you answer this practice test question?

Q. Thieves recently rammed a truck through the entrance of your company’s main building. During the chaos, their partners proceeded to steal a significant amount of IT equipment. Which of the following choices can you use to prevent this from happening again?

A. Bollards

B. Guards

C. CCTV

D. Mantrap

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation are available at the end of this post.

Securing Access with Barricades

In some situations, fencing isn’t enough to deter potential attackers. To augment fences and other physical security measures, organizations erect stronger barricades. As an example, military bases often erect strong, zigzag barricades that require vehicles to slow down to navigate through them. This prevents attackers from trying to ram through the gates.

Businesses and organizations need to present an inviting appearance, so they can’t use such drastic barricades. However, they often use bollards, which are short vertical posts, composed of reinforced concrete and/or steel. They often place the bollards in front of entrances about three or four feet apart. They typically paint them with colors that match their store. You’ve probably walked through a set of bollards multiple times without giving them a second thought. However, thieves who are contemplating driving a car or truck through the entrance see them.

Many thieves have driven vehicles right through the front of buildings, and then proceeded to steal everything in sight. Depending on the strength of the walls, criminals might even be able to drive through a wall with a truck. Strategically placed bollards will prevent these types of attacks.

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Preventing Tailgating with Mantraps

A mantrap is a physical security mechanism designed to control access to a secure area through a buffer zone. Personnel use something like a proximity card to gain access, and the mantrap allows one person, and only one person, to pass through. Because they only allow one person through at a time, mantraps prevent tailgating. Mantraps get their name due to their ability to lock a person between two areas, such as an open access area and a secure access area, but not all of them are that sophisticated.

An example of a simple mantrap is a turnstile similar to what you see in many public transport systems. Even if you’ve never ridden the subway in one of many U.S. cities or the Tube in London, you’ve probably seen turnstiles in movies such as While You Were Sleeping. When customers present a token, the turnstile unlocks and allows a single person through at a time. Similarly, users unlock the turnstile mantrap with something like a proximity card.

A sophisticated mantrap is a room, or even a building, that creates a large buffer area between the secure area and the unsecured area. Access through the entry door and the exit door is tightly controlled, either with guards or with an access card such as a proximity card.

It’s also possible to require identification and authentication before allowing passage through a mantrap. For example, a retina scanner can identify individuals and restrict access   to only authorized individuals. Similarly, some card reader systems support the use of unique PINs assigned to the user. Users present their card and enter their PIN to gain access before the mantrap opens.

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Monitoring Areas with Cameras

Organizations are increasingly using security cameras in the workplace and surrounding areas for video surveillance. This includes areas outside of a building, such as a parking lot, and all building entrances and exits. Additionally, many organizations use cameras to monitor internal entrances of high-security areas, such as the entrance of a data center or server room.

Cameras are connected to a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system, which transmits signals from video cameras to monitors that are similar to TVs. In addition to providing security, CCTV can also enhance safety by deterring threats.

Organizations often use video cameras within a work environment to protect employees and enhance security in the workplace. In addition to live monitoring, most systems include a recording element, and they can verify if someone is stealing the company’s assets. By recording activity, videos can be played back later for investigation and even prosecution.

Identifying Physical Security Access Controls

Video surveillance provides the most reliable proof of a person’s location and activity. Access logs provide a record, but it’s possible to circumvent the security of an access log. For example, if Bart used your proximity card to gain access to a secure space, the log will indicate you entered, not Bart. In contrast, if the video shows that Bart entered the room at a certain time of day, it’s not easy for Bart to refute the video.

When using video surveillance in a work environment, it’s important to respect privacy and to be aware of privacy laws. Some things to consider are:

  • Only record activity in public areas. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy in certain areas, such as locker rooms and restrooms, and it is often illegal to record activity in these
  • Notify employees of the surveillance. If employees aren’t notified of the surveillance, legal issues related to the video surveillance can arise. This is especially true if the recordings are used when taking legal and/or disciplinary actions against an
  • Do not record audio. Recording audio is illegal in many jurisdictions, without the express consent of all parties being recorded. Many companies won’t even sell surveillance cameras that record audio.

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Q. Thieves recently rammed a truck through the entrance of your company’s main building. During the chaos, their partners proceeded to steal a significant amount of IT equipment. Which of the following choices can you use to prevent this from happening again?

A. Bollards

B. Guards

C. CCTV

D. Mantrap

Answer is A. Bollards are effective barricades that can block vehicles.

Guards can restrict access for personnel, but they cannot stop trucks from ramming through a building.

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) or a similar video surveillance system can monitor the entrance, but it won’t stop the attack.

Mantraps prevent tailgating, but they most likely won’t stop a truck.

See Chapter 9 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-501 Study Guide  for more information on physical security controls.

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