Maxminally Adequate Security

Last Updated: 2018-05-20 09:00:00 -0500

For locksport enthusiasts or others with an interest in physical security (or security in general, for that matter), no phrase comes in as frustrating a sentiment as “Locks are for honest people.” While the statement is true, the sentiment with which it is usually proclaimed is a misguided and dangerous attitude. Dangerous, because those who believe it often take inappropriate measures on the basis of its advice. On the backbone of this sentiment, we have become a society that expects, and even accepts, our physical security practice to be compromised. But, just as there is more to driving than a car, there is more to security than merely a lock.

Let’s suppose you wish to secure a bike. The measures you are going to take to do so will likely be in proportion to the value of the bike, and perhaps some consideration will be made to the likelihood of it being stolen in your area. On that balance of probabilities, you decide not to opt for the high-end Kryptonite-branded steel U-Bar lock and instead get the plastic-sheathed-chain generic combination lock. The bike is subsequently stolen, and to make ourselves feel better we remember that Locks are for honest people.

This consideration doesn’t take into account how the bike got stolen or why. Where had you parked it? In what way did you lock it up? How was it stolen? Did the thief take the whole thing, or just a few key components?

This analogy extends throughout security as a whole, in both physical and informational spaces. Fundamentally, the hypothetical you in this situation was thinking in the right way - security should reflect relative value and risk. There’s no sense in building a baby barn with security-studded hinges on the door and an Aboloy Protec2 on the door to protect a $200 bike. There’s even less sense in doing that if the doors are 1/2” plywood.

Changing the Cost-Benefit Analysis

So far, the aspect of minimizing the cost of security has been over-emphasized. People look at cost of security as a proportion of the value of whatever they’re securing, but look at it with an eye toward minimization - a losing prospect.

In much the same way I suspect no sane person would want a Master No. 18 to be the only security on the front door of their house I am absolutely baffled that any of you should want the very same core to secure a bike, or its equivalent in access control on the server storing all of your kid’s photos.

Let’s look at the average house. If you’re like me you probably have, at any given point in time, posessions with a black market value of maybe $2-3k, and a replacement value at retail of closer to $10-12,000. If you’re really smart you’re already paying for contents insurance to insure you against, among other things, burglary. But that’s not the point, is it? You don’t care about replacing your stuff, you care about keeping your stuff yours.

So you have to ask yourself the hard questions. “If I was going to break into my house, how would I do it?”

The answer is probably not pick your front door lock. Most criminals can’t pick, and in any case picking locks is super conspicuous in practice. More likely, a basement window is going to suffice. So defense of a home against unintended burglary becomes a matter of defense in depth, of having good neighbours, and perhaps a bit of opsec to not have your Cool Stuff stand out from the Cool Stuff in the houses around you.

Let’s imagine instead this - after scrimping, saving, and hustling throughout your youth you have finally opened that Artisanal Widgits and Holistic Computer Repair shop you’ve been dreaming of. Your inventory is worth damn near 100k and stored, mostly, in glass-fronted display cabinets. Like all trendy businesses you have huge front windows and a glass front door. You were careful in site selection to pick a good neighbourhood, but that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, so the building is alarmed. Still, one morning you come in and a sizable chunk of your inventory is gone. There’s broken glass absolutely everywhere. What the hell went wrong?

You relied too much on LE and its response time to the alarm. While glass-fronted display cabinets are excellent, they are not ideal. Neither are glass front doors or windows.

There are solutions. Various kinds of security shutters can be installed (and in ways they are relatively concealed when not actively in use, if you’re worried about wrecking the trendy value of the property.) Bulletproof display cabinets exist, but a better solution may be to pay out a few extra hours of labour to move the high-value merchandise into a back store-room. Have door fitment checked and any doors which can still be “carded” open adjusted. While a hollow wooden door might be fine for the staff room or restroom, perhaps your back office (with the safe and server for the customer database) or the stockroom should have heavier full-core or even steel doors.

Sure, all of these measures could be bypassed. But in the same token that you don’t leave cash in the till overnight, you shouldn’t leave valuable tools or stock lying around, either. The safe in your office is still penetrable, but it would take sufficiently long that no thief is going to bother - the risk of time lost to defeating your layered security approach is too great of a step toward getting caught on or near the scene.

Let’s go back to the bike example. In the example above, I listed a lock worth maybe ten bucks. For as little as sixty, you could have gotten two good, metal-bodied, decent-cored u-bar locks. Passing one through the frame and the spokes of the rear wheel and one through the frame and the spokes of the front wheel would immobilize the bike and keep the wheels secured - bonus points if one of those locks also passed through some solid anchor to keep the bike rooted in place. At that point, the only thing likely to be stolen is the seat - which you could bring with you, in all honesty, if it were quick-release.

While sixty dollars worth of locks seems high in the face of ten, if you remember the bike itself cost you $200 (or, if it’s any kind of good bike at all, likely considerably more)… it’s not that outrageous an investment.