Why Businesses Need to Retire the Master Key
At Sera4, we make physical assets easily accessible to people who need to get to them, while keeping them safeguarded from others. Many of the companies we help are working to solve a problem with theft and vandalism. I was surprised when I learned that in almost all cases, the majority of theft was from people who were entrusted with a key.
The companies we work with want to protect sensitive points in a network or service. To do this, they build physical walls around these sensitive points and put locks on the doors. Access is given out to the people who help maintain, facilitate, and run these points. This could be a large employee base, or a contractor force.
From here, companies have faced a choice. They can either choose to maintain their security by limiting the number of keys that are distributed, which becomes inefficient in having to pass physical keys, or they make multiple copies of a key. Most companies opt for speed and efficiency over maximum security. They elect to trust the employees and contractors who have signed contracts, and issue them all keys. In extreme cases, all the locks are keyed to the same cylinder or all combination locks are set to the same sequence. Thus, the Master Key. While it is a simple and easy solution for access control, the employees and contractors are now aware that their colleagues also have the same keys they do.
A desperate contractor or employee finds courage behind the curtain by anonymity. They reason that they can steal with low risk because they know that when the company discovers a problem, they will hide in a sea of others who are all holding the key that opened the door. And usually, they are right. Add to this that putting something behind lock & key adds to perceived value, and maybe there is more theft with the locks on than with no locks at all.
With smartphone-based access control, anonymity is removed. Anyone who opens a lock is reliably identified by their phone. This removal of anonymity has been proven to dramatically reduce the occurrence of theft. Since the black market value of the things that are stolen is just pennies on the dollar, I think there is an opportunity here for everyone involved to come out ahead.