Security Breach Case Study: A Literal Key to NY City

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on Oct 04, 2012

How much would it take to bring a city to it's knees? How about $150? It sounds impossible, but that is exactly what has happened in NYC. A major security vulnerability has been exposed with a simple set of keys - a "fireman's key ring" - illegally sold to a newspaper. In this note, we peek into the security firestorm, the backstory, the costs involved to recover from improperly managed 'master' keys, and discuss how to prevent similar events in the future.

The Story

In a scandalous story appearing in several publications, a retired locksmith (allegedly) elected to sell a set of master keys typically carried by NYFD on an online auction. This particular set of keys is very powerful, due to the ability to 'universally' open or control the features common to NYC skyscrapers with the following keys:

  • Elevator Control Fireman Key: Lift systems are required by code to be recalled to the ground floor and 'locked out' of service by firemen during a fire event. This prevents building occupants from becoming trapped inside cars, or potentially waiting too long for a car when they should be evacuating.
  • Subway Gate Access Key: Rolling grilles are used to control access to vulnerable areas of NYC's Subway System, and one of master keys opened these gates.
  • Circuit Breaker Cabinet/Closet: Locks securing electrical utility share a common key for quick access by fireman during firefighting efforts.
  • Construction Site Lockboxes: Similar to 'Knoxboxes', several keys on the ring reportedly opened the keycabinets holding all keys for entire construction projects (1 World Trade Center was cited.)

The end result of this particular key ring being sold in the 'grey market' is that vast portions of NYC's most vulnerable areas can be entered without authorization by unknown keyholders - including potential terrorists, vandals, and criminals.

While no charges have yet been filed in the event, selling city property is a crime, and the public outcry has been swift and strong - many are calling for the compromised locks to be repinned immediately.

The Cost

Even conservative estimates place the cost of this event in tens of thousands, potentially up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Assuming that a single 'master key' could open 1000 potential locks throughout the city, losing a ring of 5 keys can easily effect 5000 individual locks. Assuming that the average cost of repinning a single lock is $10-$15, just the effort of changing over the locks alone could measure $50,000 - $75,000. This estimate does not consider the additional cost of recutting keys, purchasing (in some cases, rare) keyblanks, and the overall logistical labor required to administer and perform the work.

Solving The Problem

Among the number of mistakes and errors detailed in the story, the biggest failure is proper Key Control. As we previously discussed in our "Are You Neglecting Key Control?" report, this most inglorious aspect of security management is also one of the most critical.

While no indication of a key management system is given by the various reports, several of the key numbers have been tied to individual positions or keyholders. Regardless of the details of the particular system in place, the circumstance where a newspaper is able to buy a set of master keys simply would not be possible if basic key management was in place.

Given standard issuance policy, when a specific key (especially a 'master' key) is lost it should be immediately reported, or at least discovered to be missing during routine scheduled audits. At the point a key is missing, controlled and preventive action can be taken to recover the key or repin/modify affected locks, rather than a sensationalized 'knee-jerk' reaction fueled by fear.

Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Foolish Strategy: OEMing Facial Recognition on Dec 13, 2018
Almost as 'hot' as face recognition marketing right now is OEMing facial recognition. Last year, they were a who's who of company's with...
Openpath Access Control Tested on Nov 20, 2018
Big investment in access startups is uncommon, but Openpath has recently attracted $20 million doing just that. The company has limited security...
Video Surveillance Hard Drive Size Statistics 2018 on Nov 08, 2018
What is the most common hard drive size for video surveillance? 150+ integrators answered: What size hard drive do you most commonly use? What...
Haven Targets School Security with Lockdown Lineup on Nov 08, 2018
Haven, a US startup founded in 2014 as a residential-focused company, has now raised funding and is offering a lineup of commercial grade locks for...
Favorite Video Surveillance Hard Drive Manufacturer 2018 on Nov 06, 2018
Who is the favorite hard drive for video surveillance use? 150+ integrators answered: What is your preferred brand/model of hard drive for...
Solar-Powered, Smart-Phone-Based Access Kit (VIZPin) Examined on Nov 02, 2018
Cloud-based access control company VIZPin is releasing a solar-powered and smart phone based access control system for gates and other remote...
Video Surveillance Hard Drive Failure Statistics 2018 on Nov 02, 2018
Hard drive failures can be significant service problems but how common of an issue are they in video surveillance? How long do drives last when...
Door Hinges Guide on Oct 10, 2018
Some of the trickiest access control problems are caused by bad door hinges. From doors not closing right, to locks not locking, worn or warped...
Favorite Power Supply Manufacturer 2018 on Sep 28, 2018
While power supplies are becoming less important as PoE matures, they remain vital to access control systems, where increased power for locks,...
Access Control Lock Guide on Sep 26, 2018
In this guide, we examine locks; critical elements of any security system and fundamental parts of every access control system. Two fundamental...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Imperial Capital Security Investor Conference 2018 Review - ADT, Resideo, Alarm.com, Arlo, Eagle Eye, ACRE, More on Dec 14, 2018
Imperial Capital Security Investor Conference is an event matching industry executives with financiers that frequently leads to future funding...
Cisco Meraki New Cameras and AI Analytics on Dec 14, 2018
Meraki has released their second generation of video surveillance with 3 new cameras, AI-based video analytics, and 2 cloud-based storage...
Foolish Strategy: OEMing Facial Recognition on Dec 13, 2018
Almost as 'hot' as face recognition marketing right now is OEMing facial recognition. Last year, they were a who's who of company's with...
DVR Examiner - Video Recovery from Recorder Hard Drives on Dec 13, 2018
Bypassing passwords and long download times on-site, DVR Examiner collects and organizes video evidence directly from a hard drive extracted from...
2019 Access Control Book Released on Dec 12, 2018
This is the best, most comprehensive access control book in the world, based on our unprecedented research and testing has been significantly...
Huawei Hisilicon Quietly Powering Tens of Millions of Western IoT Devices on Dec 12, 2018
Huawei Hisilicon chips are powering, at least, tens of millions of Western IoT devices, such as IP cameras and surveillance recorders, a fact that...
FLIR Launches Body Cameras Unified With VMS (TruWitness) on Dec 11, 2018
While FLIR is best known for their thermal cameras, now they have expanded into body cameras, launching TruWITNESS, a public safety focused body...
Startup Sunflower Labs' Autonomous Drone Security System on Dec 11, 2018
Startup Sunflower Labs is claiming a unique design on a home security system, combining autonomous drones and 'Sunflower' sensors. Imagine an...
The 2019 Video Surveillance Industry Guide on Dec 10, 2018
The 300 page, 2019 Video Surveillance Industry Guide, covers the key events and the future of the video surveillance market, is now available,...
Multi-Factor Access Control Authentication Guide on Dec 10, 2018
Can a stranger use your credentials? One of the oldest problems facing access control is making credentials as easy to use as keys, but restricting...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact