Save MOneyAdvances in key technology and key management have made storage more secure than ever. However, it is still better to be safe than sorry. The loss of a key can have serious consequences for businesses, but new systems make tracking your keys much easier.

Once, a sturdy iron keyring was all that was required, but as lock technology became smaller so did keys. Until the 1970s key technology was still based on a metal template, with its shank ground to a more-or-less unique pattern. For car manufacturers, this presented a problem; the grinding tolerances were notoriously vague, and it was possible to use one set of keys to unlock and start another car. The Ford Cortina became renowned as an easily procured getaway vehicle for bank robbers, using three or four sets of stolen keys to start any car.

Modern keys are far more sophisticated, with unique designs and integral transponders that are virtually impossible to copy. But the sophistication of modern keys presumes that there is secure storage for them. Losing keys is devastating enough for a house owner, but if the loss results in the theft of commercial goods, the repercussions can be serious. The criminal fraternity may have stopped using gelignite to blow safety deposit boxes, but they have developed more subtle techniques to gain access.

Prisons and military installations require effective key management in order to prevent two different scenarios. In the case of prisons, access to keys and escape by the prisoners; and in the case of military installations the denial of keys to terrorists and insurgents looking to break into the facility. Losing control of the process can be catastrophic. In the Long Binh Jail riot of 1968, a US military penitentiary in South Vietnam was effectively destroyed by its inmates, several of whom escaped using stolen keys. An enquiry showed that the guard force was chronically undermanned – at least 200 extra guards would have been required to stop the riot. But the keys themselves were not kept in a centralised location, and their storage and exchange were not documented.

At the Munich Olympics in 1972 the already lax security perimeter around the Israeli athletes’ compound was further weakened when terrorists stole a set of keys, depriving the athletes of their last line of defence against their attackers. Event management should include a strict protocol on how key losses are reported and what actions should be taken.

Modern key management systems ensure that only authorised staff can access the central key cabinet, and record when and by whom a key is used. Software reporting functions allow the key’s movement to be accounted for at all times. For secure facilities this is essential to ensure that the keys have not fallen into the wrong hands. Intellectual losses can match material losses, and unauthorised access to secure facilities can result in the compromise of vital information.

As older facilities are updated and key storage becomes more sophisticated, so does the range of threats levelled against it. While the scenario of a criminal using a block of soap to form an impression of the cell key firmly belongs in the movies, there are always new threats around the corner. Effective key management will ensure that everyone who enters or leaves a facility can account for key use.

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This article was written on behalf of Traka, leaders in sophisticated Electronic Key Management systems. Visit their site for more information on access control and asset management.