8 ways physical security has evolved

Physical security has come a long way since the advent of the lock and key. But for all of its changes, the greatest aspect of the evolution of physical security is how it has begun to mesh with our digital world. Here are eight of the most significant developments that have occurred over time in the field of physical security.

"What we're seeing is the merging of electronic and physical spaces," says Chris Nickerson, founder and chief consultant at Lares Consulting. "We've gone away from straight physical security to working with the social and electronic sides to make sure that a person is who they say they are."

Read on for the improvements we've seen in physical security in recent years.

RFID Badge
RFID Badges

Most buildings these days incorporate RFID badges in some capacity. The badges, which contain two crucial pieces of information – the site code and the individual badge ID -- allow employees to swipe their card in close proximity to a scanner in order to gain access to certain areas. "They're good for logging who's going in and what time," says Nickerson. "RFID has its vulnerabilities, but it's still better than actual keys, where you can get a hold of a master key."

Indeed, RFID badges are rife with security flaws. They are easily cloned, for example, and brute force attacks can be used to take advantage of the fact that badge ID numbers are typically incremental. 

Facial recognition
Facial recognition

Part of the advancements that have been made in video surveillance is facial recognition coding. Facial recognition has become so advanced that it can not only be used to verify that somebody is who they say they are, it can also be used to pick a person out of the crowd and even determine if they're up to no good.

"You can use facial action coding, heart rate, and eye and retinal changes of any size to determine deception," says Nickerson, who used the example of facial recognition coding systems being used in casinos in Las Vegas to sniff out cheaters at the tables or to keep them out of the building entirely. 

Video surveillance
Video surveillance

Video surveillance has been around for quite some time now, but it has improved drastically since its inception. Video surveillance is now sophisticated enough to incorporate facial recognition, and higher quality cameras are creating footage that is sharper than ever.

"HD is now standard, and getting above HD is now becoming mainstream," says Jay Hauhn, CTO and vice president of industry relations for Tyco Integrated Security. "Megapixel cameras on the video security side give you great picture."

Iris recognition
Iris recognition

Striking a balance between being both accurate and non-invasive, iris recognition now allows security teams to identify people based solely on the pattern of their eye. "I'm a huge fan of iris recognition, since the patterns are more unique than DNA," says Hauhn. "Irises are really good for being captured by a high resolution camera at a distance."

Like facial recognition it's possible to bypass iris recognition technology with a still photo of someone else's eye, but Hauhn maintains that it's not as easily fooled. After all, as Hauhn points out, "Try to get a good picture of an eye and do that."

Security guards, photo ID badges
Security guards and photo ID badges

There's something to be said for a good, old-fashioned pair of eyes. With the use of RFID cards and outsourced access systems, the human element of security is being lost. Knowing who has been coming into the building for years -- or perhaps noticing that a person is using someone else's photo ID badge simply because their face isn't the one on the card -- are things a machine can't do, but a human can.

"Let's say I've been working at the front desk for 10 years," says Nickerson. "I know your face. I may even be able to tell that you're not supposed to be there even based on a feeling. A lot of that is being lost."

Fingerprint scanning
Fingerprint scanning

Fingerprint scanning not only ups the level of security at an access point by requiring identification that is unique to each person, it also allows security systems to keep track of who is entering the facility. "It's just being able to say that [this person] went through this door at this time…there's a huge difference between that and, 'It's a key. I really have no idea who the owner was,'" says Nickerson. "It's the biggest advancement we have."

Perimeter security systems
Perimeter security systems

No longer do we need to rely solely on walls or fences for guarding a facility's perimeter, thanks to the advances in perimeter monitoring systems. Some systems now use microwaves or radio waves to establish a perimeter and can alert security teams when the protected area is being encroached upon. "So you can see who's outside the area and be alerted beforehand," says Nickerson. "It's a huge advancement for the early warning side of things."

Security linked to mobile devices
Security linked to mobile devices

It's not uncommon these days to have security systems – especially home security systems – linked to a mobile device. Smart sensors, wireless deadbolts, and remote control security/utility systems can all be controlled be a user's mobile device. But some say with such convenience comes compromised security.

Though attackers can physically get their hands on your phone to get the keys to the castle – "People can't seem to help thsemselves but lose their phones or have them stolen," says Ryan Jones, managing consultant at Lares Consulting. "I see there being a problem in the future with spooking someone's phone and unlocking their house and shutting off their alarm," he adds.