I am a fan of security of all types. I enjoy thinking about security theory and examining security problems. I like messing with security systems, both offensively and defensively. My interest in security is not confined to the digital world – I also greatly enjoy entertaining problems and considering solutions to physical security. As such, this post will begin a series of posts on physical security and serve as a jumping-off point for a number of future posts.
This post is the first in a series called “Secure Your Physical Perimeter”. This series will start from the outside and work inward in an attempt to create a physical defense-in-depth by considering concentric rings of security. When most people think of “home security” they imagine getting an alarm and perhaps upgrading their locks. While these are good measures to take, security should begin much further away. It is far better to mitigate threats before they get close to your door than it is to wait until they are on your porch.
1. The neighborhood: Your neighborhood or building should function as your outermost ring of security As simple (and perhaps undesirable) as it sounds, this means getting to know your neighbors and letting them know a little bit about you. Your neighbors will remember the car at your house or the guy in you apartment building that doesn’t belong there. They will notice if your car is gone but your door is wide open. They will be skeptical of the “salesman” that doesn’t quite look the part. Neighbors can call the police or fire department on your behalf if you are not home (or perhaps if you are). It far less likely, however, that your neighbors will take an active interest in this if they haven’t at least shaken your hand and learned your name.
Your neighborhood, street, and apartment building are the outermost rings of your phsyical perimeter. The specifics of your situation will dictate the rings of your outer perimeter, but don’t be afraid to get creative. I value my privacy as highly as my security, so I am hesitant to give my neighbors too much information about me. I do tell them enough so that they can help me. My neighbors know my name, telephone number, and a working email address. They also know that I travel constantly and I have asked each of them to “keep an eye” on my house when I am gone. All of them are glad to help, and my next-door neighboor Jack has called me several times when things didn’t look right. Each time I thanked him profusely and brought him a small gift upon my return, and now when I return from a trip Jack gives me a full report of everything that happened around my house.
If you don’t function well in meat-space or just don’t wish to have your neighbors over for dinners and get-togethers, check out Robin Dreeke’s It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone. (affiliate link). It works.
2. Your yard, property line, or building: Moving inward, the next dinstinct ring of security is your property. If you live in an apartment building, this overlaps with the previous section and would be your apartment building. Your yard is a dividing line between you and the rest of the world; you own or rent it, and encroachment on it is an escalation beyond simply being on your street. As such, you want to be able to see anyone who is on your property and doing so can reduce the likelihood of criminal activity moving beyond your street.
- Trim your shrubbery. Any shrubbery that would give an individual a concealed approach to your house should be cut back. Though it sounds overly simple, depriving a burglar of a concealed approach can make him feel exposed and uncomfortable.
- Use motion lights in the yard. Being surprised by motion lights coming on unexpectedly can be shocking and may deter an attacker. Buy ones that are light sensitive so that they will not be activated in the day time. I like the RAB Super Stealth Motion Lights (affiliate link) in the photo accompanying this article. I use these lights because they work; the sensitivity can be adjusted to reduce false positives and they have an adjustment to control how long the lights stay on after they are activated. This light also has a 360-degree bottom-facing sensor to increase their utility and prevent tampering.
- Leave your porch lights on. An attacker would much prefer to do his or her work on a darkened porch instead of a well-lit one. Moreover, concerned neighbors are more likely to see the potential intruder and alert you and the police to his presence.
- Advertise your alarm system. Place an alarm company sign in the front yard and stickers on your doors.
- Keep your valuables out of plain sight. An intruder should not be able to look inside and see laptops, cameras, firearms, jewelry, or any item that can easily be carried away and quickly converted to cash.
3. Your house or apartment: Your home, whether a house, apartment, condo, mobile home, or camper is your refuge and in almost every case, your innermost ring of security. Sadly, this ring of security is usually the only one that most people think of when they are considering home security; as I mentioned earlier I attempt to mitigate threats well before they reach this ring. There are a great deal of techniques that can be implemented at this ring of security, though.
- Always lock your doors and windows. If you have one, arm your alarm system. Locks and alarms do no good if they are not used.
- Use high-quality locks and ensure they are correclty installed. Install UL-listed high security lock or increase the security of standard security locks (I will discuss increasing the security of locks in an in-depth, upcoming series).
- Do NOT hide a key outside your home. A patient thief can find your key as can anyone who sees you retrieve or replace it. A much better alternative is to leave a key with a trusted friend or elsewhere “offsite.” A hidden key is an example of “security through obscurity” and is a serious security vulnerability.
- Secure any utility panels on the outside of your home with a good padlock. Similarly, lock any secondary spaces like your crawlspace.
In addition to the above, make it difficult to tell if you are at home or away, especially when you are away. This will deter opportunistic attackers and make the job of a focused attacker more difficult. Most burglars do not want to risk bumping into a homeowner because it could result in violence and police, not to mention a failure to get your valuables. The following are some tips to make your home appear to be occupied at all times:
- Continue routine home care when you are absent. If you are going to be gone for more than a few days, ask a neighbor or pay a service to mow your lawn and pick up your mail and newspaper. An unkempt lawn, an overflowing mailbox, or a pile of newspapers in the yard are tell-tale signs that you are away. This makes your home an attractive break-in target.
- Use lamp timers. Lamp timers turn lights on and off at set times, which give the appearance of someone being home. Fairly sophisticated timers (affiliate links) are available, allowing you to program lights to turn on at different times each day, up to three or four times per day. Some timers can even be programmed to turn lights on and off randomly to avoid setting predictable patterns.
- Use noise to your advantage. Used effectively, talk radio can sound like a conversation or someone watching television. Set a radio on a lamp timer to stay on from morning until bedtime, and turn the volume so it can be heard softly just outside a door.
- Use blinds and curtains to your advantage. When you go out of town do not close every blind in the house as this looks odd. Instead, close blinds or curtains as you would during your normal routine such those in the family room and your bedroom.
- Park in the garage if you have one. If you park in the driveway instead of your garage it is easy for a thief or targeted attacker to tell when you are home and when you are not. Also, when not in use, keep your garage door closed.
- Place blinds over garage windows. This accomplishes two goals: 1) it prevents an attacker from seeing whether your car is in your garage and determining if you are home, and 2) it helps make your home an unattractive target by making it difficult for a thief to see the valuables stored in your garage.
Taking these simple steps will make your home much, much more secure than most. If you are being targeted by a specific threat these measures may not be enough, but they will provide a good layer of protection against an opportunistic attacker.