Avatar photo

Freelance journalist

Author Bio ▼

Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
December 23, 2019


Whitepaper: Enhancing security, resilience and efficiency across a range of industries

Advanced technology

Does advanced technology improve security?

AdvancedSecurity-19Is advanced technology a help or a hinderance to providing effective security? Ron Alalouff examines some enlightening research into the subject.

What impact does increasingly advanced technology have on the effectiveness of physical security? Does the installation of such technology lead to better security outcomes through increased deterrence or apprehension of offenders? And what do offenders think about such technology?

These are just some of the questions that are addressed in a recently published 86-page report from Perpetuity Research on the benefits and implications of using advanced technologies in security systems. The term ‘advanced technology’ was taken to encompass internet-enabled technologies or the internet of things.

The report, The Evolution of Physical Security Measures: assessing the benefits and implications of using more advanced technologies, is based on research with security industry professionals (both contractors and end-users) and – more unusually – among offenders who had committed offences including shop theft, burglary, robbery and fraud, and who had experience of overcoming security measures to commit their offences.

Starting with those offenders, we can see that their views and perceptions on advanced technology do not necessarily follow received wisdom. While advanced technology can help deter them – for example, by being less predictable than the systems they know – it is human intervention that they fear most. While the implementation of more advanced technology may initially be a deterrent, if it has resulted in the reduction of a visible human presence the offender may see this as an opportunity, especially if the likelihood of a security or police response was perceived to be low.

Technology is continually evolving, and recent advances are accepted as part of this

inevitability. But much offending has also been displaced online, where offenders feel less visible. Technology can also be exploited by offenders if it is not designed, installed, implemented and maintained effectively.


Advanced technology: A deterrent?

It does not always hold that offenders will avoid targets with improved security, as they also find ways to bypass it. Acting and looking ‘legitimate’ was highlighted by offenders as a key weapon to avoid detection, even when CCTV and facial recognition were deployed. One such scheme was a returns scam in a shop, where an accomplice would purchase the same items as the perpetrator selected, then return to hand him the receipt, leaving the perpetrator free to walk out of the shop without paying, but having a receipt if challenged.

Other ways of overcoming security measures – however advanced – are by simply breaking or removing hardware. One offender reported that very expensive access control systems were often very vulnerable, providing a false sense of security for owners. Others talked about how technology could only catch disorganised or desperate perpetrators, rather than those who developed an effective modus operandi.

The speed at which some offences could be committed – such as shop theft and burglary –also tended to neutralise the effectiveness of any security, as did the perception that any police response would be slow. In cases such as shop theft, if systems such as linked radios and CCTV do not produce an effective human response, then the perpetrator’s confidence to commit the next crime merely increases.

One ex-offender said that good preparation was at the heart of successfully committing a crime, even with the advent of more advanced technology. Being confident that there was something worth stealing, understanding the security measures in place, and having a plan for mitigating them were always important.

The report found that offenders actually dislike, and even fear, being confronted during the commission of a crime, so the possibility of human intervention is a deterrent. The best security solutions, therefore, entailed a combination of technology with a visible human presence.

One interviewee – who was an expert in defeating access control systems – said a very determined and technologically minded criminal can always find a way, as signals can be intercepted and programming manipulated. The lack of maintenance could also be a weakness, especially with more advanced systems which require higher levels of maintenance.

But while some offenders focused on the limitations of advanced technology, others saw it as a major obstacle to committing crime, especially if there is effective interaction between technology and people. As one interviewee told the researchers:

“A lot of people are definitely getting caught more. A long process – but people will start realising that, ‘I can’t go to Oxford Street because people are information sharing’, radios linked to cameras. Once it has become a mainstay of security, it will put people off. People will only go on for so long, if every time you are getting arrested, because internet, security and stuff – it will take a few times to realise and for that to sink in and then you decide not to go there.”


Security professionals

Nearly three quarters (73%) of security professionals said they use or supply security measures that employed advanced technology, with roughly the same number (74%) saying they were using more of this technology than five years’ ago.

Most respondents (86%) agreed that advances in technology provide great opportunities to improve physical security, yet the same proportion said technology could never entirely replace security staff when it comes to securing businesses. A smaller proportion of respondents (64%) agreed that using advanced technology is reducing the number of security officers needed.

The report says the findings revealed a “somewhat disappointing if familiar” image of attitudes at Board level. 81% of security professionals agreed or strongly agreed that the Boards of most large companies do not have a good grasp of the threats posed by tech-savvy criminals, while 80% agreed or strongly agreed that Boards do not have a real grasp of their companies’ own security weaknesses.

More than half of respondents (51%) agreed there are “serious weaknesses” with using advanced technology that are not being addressed. The report suggests that there is much more learning to be done.

More than two thirds (69%) agreed or strongly agreed that offenders will exploit technological weaknesses in security faster than the security sector is able to respond. Two-thirds (66%) also agreed that offenders eventually find a way to overcome all security measures, no matter how sophisticated.

The report found that offenders actually dislike, and even fear, being confronted during the commission of a crime, so the possibility of human intervention is a deterrent. The best security solutions, therefore, entailed a combination of technology with a visible human presence.


The long-held view that cost is the primary factor in the purchase of physical security has not disappeared with advances in technology – 83% of respondents said that security is purchased more on what can be afforded rather than what is needed. At least part of the problem, according to 57% of the respondents, is that it’s difficult for buyers to be sure of exactly what they are getting when they procure advanced technology.

More than half the respondents (57%) agreed that human error has the potential to undermine even the most sophisticated technology, while 55% felt there were limits on the extent to which physical security can be improved by advanced technology.


Other findings of the report were…

Drivers of change: The creative commitment of security professionals (68%), technology advances in other sectors (65%), and security manufacturers/suppliers (59%) were cited most often as driving technological advances in security. The influence of customer demand was seen as important by those currently using advanced technology, but significantly less so by those not doing so. Just 41% of respondents said the security sector had been good at adapting to changes in offender behaviour.

Potential threats to effective security: More than three quarters of respondents agreed that some of the most common difficulties in using advanced technology related to ensuring privacy requirements (77%) and identifying authorised users (59%). The inherent security risks of technologies were of concern to just over two-fifths of the sample.

“Speaking to both offenders and security professionals,” said Professor Martin Gill, who led the research, “it is significant that while advances in technology can make offending harder by presenting new challenges to overcome, and can enable a more informed and efficient response, it can also present new opportunities to offenders – not least the ability to be anonymous by offending remotely.

“People remain crucial to implement and use technology effectively and to respond effectively to the incidents that technology can identify. Offenders are used to having to adapt and will learn how to overcome the problem of security or find an alternative method or target. This research is a timely reminder that advanced technology, while undoubtedly holding a number of benefits for physical security, is not a panacea.”

The Evolution of Physical Security Measures: assessing the benefits and implications of using more advanced technologies is freely available from Perpetuity Research. The report was compiled under the Security Research Initiative, a rolling programme of research supported by the British Security Industry Association, the Security Institute and the UK Chapter of ASIS International.

Free Download: The Video Surveillance Report 2023

Discover the latest developments in the rapidly-evolving video surveillance sector by downloading the 2023 Video Surveillance Report. Over 500 responses to our survey, which come from integrators to consultants and heads of security, inform our analysis of the latest trends including AI, the state of the video surveillance market, uptake of the cloud, and the wider economic and geopolitical events impacting the sector!

Download for FREE to discover top industry insight around the latest innovations in video surveillance systems.


Related Topics

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ollencio D'Souza
Ollencio D'Souza
January 7, 2020 11:47 pm

Ron Alalouff Without putting together a “business process” for Risk Management – purchasing or using ‘technology makes little sense. Technology has to execute a “function” for you efficiently, consistently and cost effectively. http://blog.triaster.co.uk/blog/the-physical-security-industry-ollencio-olly-dsouza
In this data centric world – all systems should be integrated at the “data exchange” level to be of any use to an integrated control room with responsibility to manage risk. So the article and research is sort of “unclear” about why you would need technology because they do not frame the argument with a purpose and function!