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Securing your equipment - Part 1 - Advice-06

Securing Your Equipment Against Theft

A practical guide to cost effective security measures

With an estimated annual cost to UK businesses of over £450 million, PC theft is big business. Opportunist theft is of course an ongoing problem, however for many organisations the major threat now comes from organised gangs of criminals stealing to order for insatiable and lucrative overseas markets. (Up to 80% of the goods stolen are believed to end up in Africa, the Middle East and the former Eastern Block countries).

With a little thought and modest expenditure however there are a number of things which can be done to minimise the threat. Sadly any security measure can be overcome given adequate knowledge, resources and time, and as evidenced by one company.in the midlands (burgled three times in two weeks), even companies with Security Guards, Closed Circuit Television, and monitored Building Alarms are at risk.

The most effective form of security is often achieved by using a combination of security systems and products implemented in such a way as to form a number of layers of defence each designed to:

  • delay and / or detect the thief on site thus increasing the risk of apprehension
  • reduce the value of the goods stolen, or to increase the risk of the thief being caught whilst trying to dispose of the goods

The Cost of Theft

The theft of Personal Computer equipment will probably involve costs not covered by insurance. For example:

  • the insurance police excess
  • software rebuilding and installation costs
  • lost business
  • delays in invoicing impacting cashflow
  • disruption to workflows.

The effective cost impact of losing valuable computer equipment is extremely high. In addition there is the personal impact on staff who may experience trauma as a result of a burglarly.

Theft of a PC will also probably involve loss of data which could therefore render the owner liable to personal prosecution under "Data Protection" legislation.

Choose the Right Theft Deterrent

This general guide will introduce you to to the various types of security measures available, and offer some insight into those which may be appropriate for your organisation. 

Property Security

Property and building security is obviously essential as it forms the first line of defence against any would be intruder and thief. As a minimum this should include:

  • Insurance Company approved locks on doors & windows.
  • Plus an approved (and ideally monitored) alarm system installed by a Security Industry approved installer.

Other measures which may be appropriate include:

  • Anti climb precautions at boundary walls, fences and gates.
  • Window grills, shutters or window bars.
  • Security guards (these may be full or part time, and either directly employed or contracted from a reputable security company)
  • Close Circuit TV (CCTV) monitoring
  • Security Lighting.

Physical Theft Deterrent Systems

A number of inexpensive products are available to physically restrict access to, or to prevent the removal of individual items of equipment. When installed and used properly such products offer an excellent second line of defence against the thief and your Insurers or local Crime Prevention Officer will be pleased to offer advice on what may be suitable for your environment and to provide details of reputable suppliers.

For convenience it will be helpful to consider the available options under the following sub headings: 

  • Access control devices
  • Secure containers
  • Security Cable systems
  • Locking Mechanisms & Keying options

Access control devices

Within a building it is often possible to make certain areas or offices "Secure areas" by installing additional levels of access control devices internally. These could be standard door locks or electronic locks (typically controlled / operated by a variety of technological means including: RFI or magnetic card swipes, keypad entry systems or other forms of personal identification.)

At the bottom end of the technology scale these devices can be quite inexpensive whilst costs obviously rise as higher levels of functionality are incorporated (such as catering for multiple security levels i.e. allowing an individual access to certain areas whilst restricting their access to others).

Electronic systems normally require specialist installation, and careful consideration must be given to what happens in the event of a power failure,  (staff must always be able to leave the premises even if the power is down as this may obviously have been caused by a fire or other disaster).

Access control systems are often used to secure obvious high risk areas (e.g. Mainframe Computer Suites - where equipment is clustered together). However they may not be suitable or cost effective in terms of securing PCs and other office equipment which is likely to be installed throughout an office complex.

Secure containers

Safes and locked cabinets can be used to protect equipment against theft, however these units generally offer no more than a secure overnight storage area for equipment and are therefore of limited practical use as the physical action of repeatedly plugging together and unplugging electrical connectors is likely to result in early failure of the contact points.

Specialist "Enclosure" Systems for items such as PCs, Digital Video recorders, etc. are available at a fraction of the cost of a good safe, and will typically allow such items to be secured in place in a way that prevents unauthorised removal of the equipment but allows access to all main controls even whilst the unit is secured.

Security Cable systems

This form of security offers protection against the opportunist thief, but little defence against organised gangs of thieves who will almost certainly arrive armed with substantial cable/chain cutting implements. Cable systems have also been used in some public areas (e.g. within Airports, Local Authority Offices, etc) to secure equipment such as PC Monitors, to desks as protection for staff (e.g. to stop equipment being hurled at staff by frustrated or irate members of the Public).

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