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The Importance of Physical Key Management

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The Coronavirus crisis has sparked a worrying rise in cybercrime, prompting many enterprises to focus their attention on cyber-security and what they need to do to protect themselves. But it’s also important that businesses and organisations don’t overlook the need for rigorous physical security measures as well. It’s vitally important to recognise the importance of the physical keys used to lock buildings, secure spaces and valuable assets. These keys are equally as important as the protected resources and should therefore be afforded the same level of care and attention. Organisations need to appreciate the very significant operational security risks that can arise if physical keys are improperly managed.

Clearly defined policies to ensure mechanical keys are carefully looked after and cannot be duplicated without appropriate authorisation are essential. Creating and implementing physical key control policies and procedures is an important aspect of mechanical key management.

What is Physical Key Management?

Physical key management and control refers to the organisation of a security system applied to the mechanical keys used in a building or across a specific site. Key management systems may also incorporate vehicle keys for fleets of company automobiles.

key cabinet extra deep high security

Key management should prevent unauthorised use of physical keys, it should keep track of where keys are and who holds them and it should track usage of any emergency keys.

If your organisation uses physical keys, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your organisation have an effective, physical key management system?
  • Do you know what mechanical keys exist for your organisation?
  • Do you currently know where all these keys are and who holds them?
  • Are keys tracked to keep a record of who holds them?
  • Are keys required to be returned after use?
  • Do you have safe, secure storage for valuable keys?
  • Are keys allocated only to appropriate personnel?
  • Do your staff members borrow or exchange keys without keeping a record?
  • Do you have too many duplicate keys?

An effective key management system should include clearly defined policies that are communicated to all staff members. The whereabouts of all keys should be recorded to the system at all times and key duplication should never be carried out without appropriate authorisation.

Audits and Audit Trails

All key management systems should be subjected to routine and regular audits to ensure that systems comply with agreed standards, along with organisational requirements. Whenever a key is checked in or out of the system a record should be kept of who was responsible, at what time the key was checked out or back in and the purpose for which the key was needed.

Keeping records like this makes employees accountable, reinforces the importance of rigorous key management and ensures that no physical keys should ever become lost or fall into the wrong hands.

Use as Few Keys as Possible

Keeping the number of duplicate keys to a minimum while ensuring there is adequate protection against loss or damage is important. The fewer keys there are in circulation then the higher the level of security.

Store Keys in a Safe, Secure Location

Simply hanging important keys on a collection of visible hooks, accessible to everyone, is an obvious security risk. Lockable key storage cabinets ensure that only authorised members of staff have access to the stored keys. Key control cabinets are available in a range of capacities and with various features to aid in key management and control such as glass doors and built in tracking systems.

high capacity key storage cabinet

The question of whether to use a centralised, secure key cabinet storage solution or whether to distribute physical key storage locations can sometimes arise. Having a centralised key storage system is easy to implement, simple for staff to understand and can be relatively straightforward to manage. But having a single, central location for storing all keys on a site with multiple, distributed buildings can introduce inefficiency and frustrate employees who need to trek across the site to retrieve or return a key. In these situations multiple secure key storage cabinets with allocated responsibilities in each building can be a more effective system.

Use Cryptic Key Labels

Labelling keys will potentially give a criminal the information they need to carry out a targeted attack, for example if the labels are clear and explicit such as ‘Managing Director’s Office’ or ‘Stock Room’. It’s far better to label them using a cryptic, coded system that’s only known to staff members who need to know what the codes mean. And never keep a list of the key codes anywhere near your key storage cabinet as that would defeat the object of not labelling your keys.

Ensure All Keys are Returned

Designated staff members should verify that all keys which are required to be returned are back in their secure storage locations by the agreed date and time. If keys are not returned then an appropriate alert and escalation process should be followed.

inkey key storage cabinet

Establishing physical key curfews can be helpful in ensuring keys are returned on time. Electronic key management record systems can issue an automated alert and possibly an SMS warning message when a key has not been returned within the curfew period.

If you have any questions regarding how best to implement physical key management and control for your business or organisation please remember that we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll provide you with free, expert advice and guidance.

This message was added on Friday 29th May 2020

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