4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Let Physical Security Be Your Weakest Link

By Emily Newton, Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine

The need for thorough cybersecurity has never been more prominent. Thankfully, many businesses have recognized this need and are adopting new cybersecurity controls in response to rising digital threats. However, many also overlook physical security in that shift.

Cybercrime is fast growing in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean physical defenses are irrelevant. In fact, physical protections play a key role in defending digital assets, so a reliable cybersecurity strategy must also cover these vulnerabilities.

1. Cyber Protections Can’t Stop Physical Crime

The most straightforward reason to bolster physical security is digital defenses can only stop digital attacks. You can have the strongest firewall in the world, but if you don’t restrict physical access to your data center, someone could walk in, steal a server and walk right out with no trouble.

Some digital identity and access management (IAM) controls can prevent in-person actions like downloading files to a USB drive. However, even the strictest IAM protocols can’t protect against the simplest form of physical crime — hardware damage. Someone can break servers and offline storage systems without sophisticated tools or methods to render their data useless.

Physical destruction is a pressing concern if businesses use offline files or backups. It’s the easiest kind of in-person attack to perform and lost records cost $161 apiece on average. That can cost you a lot if you cannot prevent these attacks.

2. Physical and Cyber Systems Are Connected

It’s also important to consider that the lines between physical and cyber systems are becoming increasingly blurred. Growing Internet of Things (IoT) adoption has brought IT and operational technology (OT) closer than ever before. Many people point to this convergence to emphasize how cyber risks now affect physical systems, but the reverse also deserves consideration.

IT/OT convergence means your cyber systems and data have a greater physical presence. An IoT system may have protections against wireless access, but what if someone physically breaks into it? If a cybercriminal can unscrew a panel and access the device’s hardware, it’d be easier for them to modify it and create new vulnerabilities than to hack it digitally.

If most of your efforts focus on preventing software-based attacks, you may miss hardware-based ones. These may also be harder to spot or contain, posing significant vulnerabilities for businesses with extensive IoT infrastructure.

3. Insider Breaches Are Easier In Person

Similarly, weak physical security heightens the threat of insider breaches. A 2022 Ponemon Institute study revealed 67% of global businesses experienced at least 21 insider threat incidents that year. While most of these stem from negligence, malicious insiders and credential theft — both of which are easier in person — account for 44% of them.

The principle of least privilege prevents malicious employees from digitally accessing files they’re not authorized to. However, if you don’t apply it to physical protections, they can simply walk over to a screen or paper document with sensitive information and take a picture.

In-person credential theft poses similar risks. A criminal could pose as maintenance staff or a temporary worker to walk into a building and convince employees to give them access to a computer or server room. From there, they could access all they want and leave before someone notices they’ve taken sensitive data.

4. Environmental Threats Pose Risks, Too

Physical risks include more than just in-person cybercrime, too. Another reason you shouldn’t overlook physical security is environmental hazards can threaten your hardware and offline data. Fires, car crashes and similar events can all threaten your IT and OT systems without proper defenses.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather events can cause considerable damage to data centers or offices. While these are often outside your control, you can protect against them with steps like cloud backups, water-proofing, raising servers above ground level and creating flood barriers. Climate change is also making these weather events more common, so preparing for them is essential.

Physical Security Best Practices

As these four reasons highlight, physical security is an essential part of cybersecurity. What specific actions are most important depends on your unique situation, but here are some general best practices to consider.

First, if you have an on-premise data center or server room, lock it down as much as possible. Use automatically locking doors and magnetic ID cards to grant authorization to restrict access and see who’s in the room at what times. You should also place expanded metal cages around servers to keep them safe. Make sure these are perforated, as openings keep air circulating around devices to minimize environmental threats like overheating.

Keycard access is also a good idea for the office building as a whole. Be sure to apply these locks to all doors, not just the front entryway. It’s also best to require visitors to sign in and always be in the presence of an authorized employee who can monitor them.

CCTV systems and other monitoring technologies are also essential. However, you should review applicable laws and legal best practices to ensure you don’t overstep any privacy regulations in doing so.

Finally, consider performing a physical risk assessment. Gathering data on what specific hazards apply to you and how vulnerable you are to each will inform more effective defenses. Just as pen testing is necessary for reliable cybersecurity, these analyses are critical to physical security.

Physical Security and Cybersecurity Are Inseparable

Physical and cyber systems are coming closer together, meaning the same applies to security. Your cybersecurity strategy is incomplete if it doesn’t include a thorough physical security stance.

Accounting for both sides of security may require some adjustment and cooperation between once-separate teams. If you can bring these disciplines together, you can ensure you stay safe from all threats.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine. A regular contributor to Brilliance Security Magazine, she has over four years of experience writing articles in the industrial sector.



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