A Larger Security Puzzle
Data center access control starts at the fence line
- By Toby Bostwick
- Aug 07, 2020
Ask any analyst what data is
coming into or out of your
data center and they’ll quickly
pull up a dashboard showing
packets flooding across their network.
But, if you wanted to find out who has
come and gone into the physical space
where your server racks are, would you be
able to do that?
Access control at the perimeter of a data
center, power or telco facility is a security
puzzle within a larger security puzzle that
must be built to protect your company and its
prized asset — it’s data. And like any puzzle,
starting with the edge pieces is the best way
to quickly understand what the full picture is.
There’s an axiom that good fences make
for good neighbors. This is especially true
when considering access control systems.
They can deter social engineering hacks by
keeping unwanted visitors away and prevent
a different type of brute-force attack from
people trying to access a facility. Fencing is
a crucial component in keeping data secure.
THE WEAKEST (CHAIN) LINK
Often, security fencing is overlooked
until something happens that a sturdy fence
might have prevented. Frequently, a building’s
designer will choose the least expensive
and most quickly installed option, which is
usually a chain link fence. While chain link
fences are inexpensive and quick to install,
they are not a great option in high-security
areas and have several disadvantages when
compared to other types of fencing.
Easy to climb. The links in chain link
fencing are perfectly sized to provide hand
and footholds to most people. This means
that even casual thieves might be tempted
to make their way over the fence to look for
something to steal.
Flimsy Against Intruders. Chain links
are made of wire and can easily be cut by a
cheap pair of wire cutters. This grants easy
access to anyone looking to get into a facility
without much planning or expense.
Industrial-looking. Chain link fencing
is totally functional as a basic barrier and
nothing more. It’s distinctly industrial-looking
and has a strong association with crime
because of its presence in high-crime areas
and its use in the penal system.
Chain link manufacturers have offered add-ons to address some of these weaknesses, such as barbed or
razor wire along the top of the fence to reduce the likelihood of
somebody scaling the boundary. But unfortunately, this doesn’t
do much to improve the aesthetics of the fence and may actually
discourage customers from wanting to enter. A better option for
a security fence is something both more attractive and heavy duty.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT FENCING SOLUTION
For data facilities that are looking to protect the occupants
and contents, a fence that is classified as a high-security is a better
option than the commonly seen razor wire-lined chain link fence.
Several factors differentiate a standard fence from a high-security
fence: the materials it is made from, the way those materials are assembled
and the specific design features it offers.
For a fence to be considered a high-security option, the material
that the primary components are manufactured from should be
high-strength metals such as steel. Steel panels have several noticeable
distinctions from the aluminum or wrought fencing commonly
seen around homes or apartments.
They are heavier weight and generally have the vertical and
horizontal components integrated, instead of individually attached
pickets seen in a wrought iron fence. Since each panel is built from
steel and attached to the rest of the fence, it is more difficult to cut
or remove sections of the fence.
In addition, high-security fences are composed of pales rather
than standard pickets. A pale is a roll-formed steel shape that is
larger in size and gauge of steel, which creates a visual deterrence,
as well as presents significant difficulties in cutting or accessing
the property. Pales are typically spaced at 3 inches or 1 7/8 inches,
along a C-channel rail. Pales also generally extend all the way to the
ground, which adds structural stability and makes it more difficult
for an intruder to crawl underneath. The rail is a second key component
in a high security fence as its design is intended to not only
withstand severe mid-span downforce but also to prevent climbing.
ANTI-CLIMB AND ANTI-FORCE
The materials and manufacturing process combine to give highsecurity
fences anti-climb capabilities and the ability to integrate
Anti-climb is a function of two separate components: the shape
of the rail and the spacing of the pales. The C-channel rail has a severely
sloped upper side that is intended to inhibit a foot from fitting
on top of the rail, which discourages climbing of the fence panel.
Fences that are anti-climb are generally taller than normal fences —
often more than eight feet tall. Additionally, the tops of the fences
are curved, split or spear-shaped, which further discourages trespassers.
Furthermore, the pales are spaced closer together with higher
rails, which keeps the horizontal rails from being used as leverage.
This combination of tighter spacing of the pales, strong C-channel
rails and high-strength steel also make it so that these fences can handle
the weight of multiple people trying to breach them. But should a
security fence need additional strength, builders can utilize a number
of methods to reinforce the anchor points of a fence during installation.
The Whole Building Design Guide specifies several methods for
utilizing cement to secure the vertical pieces during installation.
Additionally, reinforcement methods such as a concrete deadman
at strategic points and corners offer more integrated strength.
Designers can also add a secondary fence for additional security.
BUILDING THE REST OF THE ACCESS PUZZLE
When designing an access control system, the points of entry
are a key component of the fence’s design and how it is installed.
Designers should take into account the number of cycles of people
and/or vehicles that will pass through a gate when deciding the
best method for access control at a facility’s gates or entry points.
Whether it’s cantilevered gates, bollards or crash barriers, numerous
systems that are effective at controlling access and integrate into the
broader design are available.
Many high-security fences have features engineered into their
design that enable the integration of other security systems such as
video monitoring, motion detection or badge scanners.
Some fencing manufacturers are able to add to increased security
measures by building cable runs into the channels of the rails and
pales so that cameras, badge scanner pads or RFID monitors can
be installed. Physical cables can also be added on the back side of a
high-security fence to harden the perimeter and add crash protection.
Those cables are typically attached to the back rail through threaded
inserts and placed inside the rails on the interior side of the fencing.
Other design best practices can be used to increase the security
performance and access control abilities of a high-security fence.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) incorporates
fencing and other building and environmental elements as
part of their methods of reducing the chances of crime occurring.
According to CPTED best practices, building designers should
avoid chain link fencing and razor-wire fence topping, as it communicates
the absence of a physical presence and a reduced risk
of being detected. Steel and aluminum security fencing easily integrates
into most landscapes and can support the addition of other
elements such as shrubbery as well, making it an ideal solution for
these crucial areas.
Designing an effective access control system means bringing together
numerous systems that are engineered to work together as a
cohesive unit. But it starts at the fence line. Utilizing a steel fence that
incorporates anti-climb and other access control
features will help to create a safe and secure space
for your employees and your data. Are your physical
access control systems built to withstand the
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2020 issue of Security Today.