Managing Those Forgotten Mechanical Keys
Keeping track of mechanical keys is an security necessity sometimes overlooked in an access card-oriented workplace. Here are practical ideas for key management.
By Michael Fitzgerald
March 22, 2010 — CSO —
Many workers no longer get a mechanical key to the office. They get an access card, an electronic key programmed to get them into the office and that can be set to deny them access to restricted areas. But that doesn't mean the mechanical lock and key are gone. They're just less visible than they used to be.
And thus easier to forget. That makes keys an unexpected security vulnerability.
Mechanical keys create unique security headaches—ironic, since the key was obviously created as a security device. Earlier this year, at least $2,000 was stolen from police evidence lockers in Fruitland Park, Fla. It turned out that the city's master key opened the evidence lockers and also the city's vault, which was discovered only after one copy of the key went missing. Separately, RBC Bank was forced to change the locks on 112 branches when a master key machine was stolen from a service van.
Keys don't have to go missing to be a security hazard: In 2008, a jailbreak was attributed to a corrections officer leaving a key in a lock while he worked to fix a toilet. The key was pilfered and passed along to other inmates in the cell block. They used it to unlock other plumbing closets, then returned it to the lock, all in the space of about 10 minutes. Then eight convicts, including a convicted murderer, snuck into one of the closets, cut a hole in the ceiling and escaped.
Mechanical key systems still represented a $4.7 billion market in the United States in 2007, according to Freedonia Group, a market research firm in Cleveland, Ohio. That's much smaller than electronic access systems, which accounted for $7.8 billion in sales and represent the fastest-growing part of the $62 billion security equipment market. Even so, Freedonia projects U.S. mechanical key sales will grow at about 2.8 percent annually through 2012. Plus, demand from emerging markets worldwide means mechanical systems still make up the biggest part of the market for physical access control.
Electronic access cards offer versatility—one card can be programmed to access parking, the front door, the office and the vending machine, says Paul Everett, research director for IMS Research's access control, fire and security group. They're also easier to manage. But, he says, electronic systems typically cost more, and may not make financial sense unless a firm wants to avoid having to manage hundreds or thousands of keys.