Would you want to be known as the organization that allowed a thief to pilfer the property with a master key? What would you say to the media if someone stole a vehicle from your organization and used that vehicle in another crime? How would you rebuild trust with customers if an employee abused their key access to steal someone’s personal information or assets? How long would it take you to recoup profits lost from reputation damage?
There are real business consequences to poor key control. But what you might not have thought about is how misuse of keys and other assets negatively affects people’s personal lives — perhaps even your own or your loved ones’ lives.
For example, lost or stolen keys waste employees’ time and inconvenience customers who have entrusted their personal property to your business. In extreme situations, mismanaging keys can even put lives at risk, such as if an intruder steals an apartment key and hurts a resident or if a thief is involved in a fatal accident while driving a vehicle stolen from a dealership.
That’s why it’s vital for your organization to secure keys and reduce security vulnerabilities. Let’s take a closer look at how poor key control impacts employees, customers, and the community.
As mentioned earlier, when keys are lost, employees are forced to spend time dealing with interrupted operations, rekeying, and more. If unsecured keys are stolen, that can spell additional trouble for staff.
For example, after a car was stolen from a repair shop in Michigan, employees were concerned that insurance costs would increase and the repair shop would lose credibility, hurting employees’ ability to provide for their families. At a Georgia prison, mishandled keys endangered corrections officers (COs) by enabling an inmate to swipe a key and open other inmates’ cells.
Customers and stakeholders also face the consequences of poor key control. In the automotive industry, there are plenty of horror stories involving customers whose cars were stolen while they were being serviced. After one man’s vehicle disappeared from the service drive, management told the customer that if they couldn’t locate the vehicle, the customer would be stuck replacing it himself.
Just as mishandled keys in a dealership’s service drive leave customers’ vehicles at risk, improperly secured and tracked keys at multifamily communities, assisted living facilities, and college dorms leave people's homes vulnerable.
If keys aren’t stored in a secure location with proper checkout methods in place, employees, vendors, or burglars can use these keys to enter a resident's home without authorization. There are countless headlines about intruders stealing cash, prescription medications, or other personal items. Although less common, there have also been cases of violent crimes against residents.
Additionally, ineffective key management can expose customers to data breaches and identity theft if employees abuse their key access to obtain devices holding confidential data. That was the case at a medical facility where a former IT employee stole a hard drive containing sensitive customer information and sold it online.
In some cases, the effects of unsecured keys can extend beyond employees and customers to the broader community.
One common way an unauthorized key user could put the community at risk is by driving a vehicle without permission, whether it’s a company fleet car, dealership inventory, a delivery truck, or a government vehicle. If that driver is involved in an accident, they could harm pedestrians, other drivers, or city infrastructure. In one Oregon town, for example, a car struck a power pole, leaving the entire town and surrounding areas without power.
A rare, but still concerning, scenario is a prisoner using a key to escape from prison or jail, posing a danger to society. At a New Mexico jail, an inmate swiped a key that had been left hanging in a lock. He then used the key to access an area containing housing pipes, where he and three other inmates — a group that included a convicted killer and murder suspect — escaped through a hole in the roof.
While everyone is responsible for their own actions, you can take steps to avoid putting your employees, your customers, and the wider community at risk. Investing in an effective key control system is one of those steps. Most, if not all, of the examples mentioned here could have been avoided if keys were securely stored in a way that only authorized people could remove them.
When deciding how you’ll secure your keys, considering the implications to your organization is important, but don’t forget to consider how people’s personal lives could be affected by your decision.