Entries Tagged "alarms"

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Burglars Foil Alarm Systems

Clever trick:

Their scheme: Cut a closed store’s phone lines. Hang back while cops respond to the alarm. After officers fail to spot anything wrong and drive away, break into the store and spend as much time as they need to make off with a weekend’s worth of cash.

And one I wrote about in Beyond Fear (page 56):

Attackers commonly force active failures specifically to cause a larger system to fail. Burglars cut an alarm wire at a warehouse and then retreat a safe distance. The police arrive and find nothing, decide that it’s an active failure, and tell the warehouse owner to deal with it in the morning. Then, after the police leave, the burglars reappear and steal everything.

Posted on September 13, 2006 at 11:10 AMView Comments

Prisons and Guards

This Iowa prison break illustrates an important security principle:

State Sen. Gene Fraise said he was told by prison officials that the inmates somehow got around a wire that is supposed to activate an alarm when touched. The wall also had razor wire, he said.

“The only thing I know for sure is they went over the wall in the southwest corner with a rope and a grappling hook they fashioned out of metal from somewhere,” Fraise said.

Fred Scaletta, a Corrections Department spokesman, said the inmates used upholstery webbing, a material used by inmates who make furniture at a shop inside the prison, to scale the wall. The guard tower in that section of the prison was unmanned at the time because of budget cuts, he said.

“I don’t want to say I told you so, but those towers were put there for security, and when you don’t man those towers, that puts a hole in your security,” Fraise said.

Guards = dynamic security. Tripwires = static security. Dynamic security is better than static security.

Unfortunately, some people simply don’t understand the fundamentals of security:

State Rep. Lance Horbach, a Republican, criticized Fraise for suggesting budget cuts were a factor in the escape.

“In reality, we should explore why the taut wire system failed to alert guards and security staff that these two convicts were attempting to escape,” he said.

Actually, in reality you should be putting guards in the guard towers.

Posted on November 18, 2005 at 3:34 PMView Comments

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Security Countermeasures

Amidst all the emotional rhetoric about security, it’s nice to see something well-reasoned. This New York Times op-ed by Nicholas Kristof looks at security as a trade-off, and makes a distinction between security countermeasures that reduce the threat and those that simply shift it.

The op ed starts with countermeasures against car theft.

Sold for $695, the LoJack is a radio transmitter that is hidden on a vehicle and then activated if the car is stolen. The transmitter then silently summons the police – and it is ruining the economics of auto theft….

The thief’s challenge is that it’s impossible to determine which vehicle has a LoJack (there’s no decal). So stealing any car becomes significantly more risky, and one academic study found that the introduction of LoJack in Boston reduced car theft there by 50 percent.

Two Yale professors, Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, note that this means that the LoJack benefits everyone, not only those who install the system. Professor Ayres and another scholar, Steven Levitt, found that every $1 invested in LoJack saves other car owners $10.

Professors Nalebuff and Ayres note that other antitheft devices, such as the Club, a polelike device that locks the steering wheel, help protect that car, but only at the expense of the next vehicle.

“The Club doesn’t reduce crime,” Mr. Nalebuff says. “It just shifts it to the next person.”

This model could be applied to home burglar alarms:

Conventional home alarms are accompanied by warning signs and don’t reduce crime but simply shift the risk to the next house. What if we encouraged hidden silent alarms to change the economics of burglary?

Granted, most people don’t want hidden alarms that entice a burglar to stay until the police show up. But suppose communities adjusted the fees they charge for alarm systems – say, $2,000 a year for an audible alarm, but no charge for a hidden LoJack-style silent alarm.

Then many people would choose the silent alarms, more burglars would get caught, and many of the criminally inclined would choose a new line of work….

I wrote about this in Beyond Fear:

A burglar who sees evidence of an alarm system is more likely to go rob the house next door. As far as the local police station is concerned, this doesn’t mitigate the risk at all. But for the homeowner, it mitigates the risk just fine.

The difference is the perspective of the defender.

Problems with perspectives show up in counterterrorism defenses all the time. Also from Beyond Fear:

It’s important not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Countermeasures often focus on preventing particular terrorist acts against specific targets, but the scope of the assets that need to be protected encompasses all potential targets, and they all must be considered together. A terrorist’s real target is morale, and he really doesn’t care about one physical target versus another. We want to prevent terrorist acts everywhere, so countermeasures that simply move the threat around are of limited value. If, for example, we spend a lot of money defending our shopping malls, and bombings subsequently occur in crowded sports stadiums or movie theaters, we haven’t really received any value from our countermeasures.

I like seeing thinking like this in the media, and wish there were more of it.

Posted on July 1, 2005 at 12:19 PMView Comments

Burglars and "Feeling Secure"

From Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason (Villard, 2003):

Nothing works more in a thief’s favor than people feeling secure. That’s why places that are heavily alarmed and guarded can sometimes be the easiest targets. The single most important factor in security—more than locks, alarms, sensors, or armed guards—is attitude. A building protected by nothing more than a cheap combination lock but inhabited by people who are alert and risk-aware is much safer than one with the world’s most sophisticated alarm system whose tenants assume they’re living in an impregnable fortress.

The author, a burglar, found that luxury condos were an excellent target. Although they had much more security technology than other buildings, they were vulnerable because no one believed a thief could get through the lobby.

Posted on December 17, 2004 at 9:21 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.