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Unauthorised Access: What It Is and How to Prevent It

view of high rise buildings from the ground

Preventing unauthorised access to your building is essential for security and health and safety. Failing to secure your business premises properly could result in theft, anti-social behaviour and accidents causing harm to your workers and the public. In light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, improperly secured and zoned premises could also result in the continued spread of the virus.

In this article, we provide an all-encompassing rundown of what unauthorised access is, and why it’s important to prevent it. We also cover methods and theories of access control that enable you to act now and reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus between your workers and customers. In addition, we provide general guidance on implementing day-to-day access control to make your business safer and more secure.

What is Unauthorised Access and Why is it Important to Prevent It?

Unauthorised access refers to an employee or member of the public entering areas of business premises that are off-limits to them, regardless of the means of entry. The most common ways in physical security breaches occur are:

  • Using stolen or lost keys, security passes, or fobs
  • Entering via an unlocked door
  • Tailgating (following an authorised party through a security door or gate)
  • Hacking smart keys
  • Levering or breaking down a weak door
  • Convincing an authorised party from inside the business to allow access

In order to prevent unauthorised access, all prohibited areas within a business must be clearly demarcated using appropriate signage; particularly in areas where clients, customers, or unauthorised staff are often present. In addition, companies must ensure that all staff are aware of any zones that are off-limits to prevent any disputes from occurring in the event of unauthorised access.

Depending on the context in which it occurs, unauthorised access can have serious consequences. If an authorised party manages to gain entry to prohibited areas of a business, this could result in injuries, theft, antisocial behaviour, or sensitive commercial information being compromised. Given the current situation with coronavirus (COVID-19), unauthorised access could even spread infections.

Reducing the Risk of Spreading Infections

Under normal circumstances, infections would be less likely to spread via unauthorised access. In the current climate, however, the presence of unauthorised parties in critical locations within a business could have disastrous consequences in terms of transmitting COVID-19, especially given that this strain of coronavirus can live on solid surfaces for extended periods of time.

Reducing and Preventing Staff, Client, or Customer Injuries

The need to avoid staff, client, or customer injuries is a more traditional motivation behind the prevention of unauthorised access. In some cases, an individual will manage to gain entry to a prohibited space without realising that the area was off-limits (i.e. if the induction process for new employees is unclear or signage is poor). If they are then injured whilst trespassing, the company may be liable.

Further to this, prohibited zones often represent a greater danger than other areas of a business. In such areas, there could be heavy machinery in use or a risk of falling from a height. The danger here is compounded by the absence of regular visitors who could provide assistance should an incident take place. According to HSE, 581,000 workers sustained non-fatal workplace injuries in 2018/19, with a further 147 fatal incidents. Preventing unauthorised access helps to reduce such cases.

Reducing and Preventing Theft or Antisocial Behaviour

Many companies restrict access to areas because of the risk of theft or antisocial behaviour. Warehouses that contain product inventory are a good example – if members of the public were to gain entry, the items stored inside could be stolen; equally, any members of staff inside the prohibited area would also be at risk of becoming the target of antisocial behaviour.

Reducing and Preventing Access to Sensitive Data

Security breaches can also result in sensitive data falling into the wrong hands, with potentially disastrous consequences. On the one hand, there could be strategic and financial implications for the business if commercial information or intellectual property is accessed; on the other, the compromised data could also threaten the firm’s compliance with GDPR, resulting in fines and other punishments.

Access Control During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Restricting access and social distancing is one of the best weapons we currently have against the coronavirus outbreak. To prevent further spread of the coronavirus, many companies have sent large numbers of their workforce to work from home, and have drastically changed the way that their work is carried out.

With fewer staff members in many business premises throughout the UK, there are increased opportunities for unauthorised individuals to gain entry to restricted areas. If unauthorised access occurs now, any key employees who are still at work would be at risk of coming into contact with COVID-19. With the outcome of a breach being more severe than ever, it’s vital that firms have a secure access protocol in place.

These are the ways that you and your business can implement access control restrictions immediately. These are:

Zone Access

Zone access systems only allow certain team members to gain entry to restricted areas of business premises, warehouse, or place of work. Whilst the most secure way to implement access control is via an access control system utilising swipe cards or biometric scanners to register a user and either grant or deny access, businesses are having to respond quickly to the coronavirus outbreak. If these technologies aren’t currently available in your business, there are alternative ways to implement access control and ensure social distancing is maintained.

Infections and viruses can only spread when they have a way to travel. In this case, COVID-19 travels by source (e.g. places where germs live such as surfaces and on human skin) as well via transmission (e.g coughing, sneezing). The key is to reduce the number of people who must cross paths, limiting the chance that individuals will come into contact with each other. In order to reduce the risk of close contact and, by extension, infection rates, many businesses are implementing zone access.

Consider Introducing Shifts

For businesses that are still operating from their usual premises, it’s vital to reduce the number of people who will be in the same space at any one time. An overcrowded space is the worst possible scenario for the transmission of COVID-19. The introduction of shifts could help to keep numbers down and maintain social distancing within your business. Where possible, staff members should stick to the same shift patterns to prevent the spread of the virus throughout the entire workforce.

Clear Prohibitive Signs

If certain areas of a business are off-limits to unauthorised personnel, the prohibitive signs on display should be clear and positioned where they can be seen. Companies can’t expect staff members to abide by rules on restricted access that they have not been made aware of. As we’ve seen already, the consequences of failing to provide appropriate prohibitive signage could be seriously detrimental to the business, particularly if someone is injured whilst in a restricted area.

Follow Government Guidelines Regarding Social Distancing

The latest government advice is to work from home wherever possible. If this cannot happen, then measures should be put in place to ensure that employees maintain social distancing in the workplace, remaining at least two metres away from each other at all times. Groups should not be allowed to form at any point, meaning that separate lunch and break hours may need to be arranged. Furthermore, team meetings should be carried out via video calls and physical contact of any kind should be discouraged.

Communicate Effectively With Your Staff

Whilst these measures can help to maintain social distancing, it remains important to communicate effectively with staff members regarding other prevention techniques such as hand washing, respiratory etiquette, and workplace cleanliness. Instruct all employees to follow NHS guidance on washing hands and provide 70% alcohol hand sanitiser. Coughs and sneezes should be caught in a tissue away from others if possible (catching germs in your elbow is the next most effective option). Finally, high-use surfaces such as desks and door handles should be sanitised regularly.

How to Prevent Customers from Accessing Unauthorised Areas of Your Business

Preventing customers from accessing unauthorised areas is just as much of a priority as restricting staff access. The risk of COVID-19 transmission is drastically increased if members of the public are allowed to gain access to prohibited zones within a business, putting employees at even greater risk.

Access Control

The first port of call for preventing public access to restricted areas is to implement thorough access control systems throughout the business. Staff-only areas such as car parks, storage spaces, break areas, and data hubs should be secured by locked doors that can only be opened with a card, fob, or keypad. If a keypad is used, then the security code must only be circulated to authorised members of staff.

Clear Prohibitive Signage

Investing in visible warning signs make it harder for customers, and employees alike, to ignore that they are venturing into a dangerous area. Posters, signs, and colour-restricted area cones in visible locations can minimise the risk of customers gaining access to places they shouldn’t.

How to Prevent Unauthorised Access to Your Building

With the current outbreak of COVID-19, those in non-essential industries have shifted to work from home where possible. During this time, offices and buildings have been left unmanned following government advice. Whilst we hope that we’ll never have to experience something as extreme as this again, securing your premises correctly can reduce the risk of theft, anti-social behaviour, and even accidents and injuries. Below, we list some of the most popular ways of monitoring, restricting, and preventing unauthorised access to your workplace.


CCTV can help to deter potential troublemakers from accessing the property, particularly when buildings are vacant. In addition, should unauthorised access occur, CCTV cameras can also help to identify the individuals responsible. Cameras should be positioned strategically, covering key areas such as car parks and entry points. Whilst it may seem sensible to utilise as many cameras as possible, for them to be effective, it is essential that they are actively monitored – using too many CCTV cameras reduces the organisation’s ability to monitor them all.

Access Control

Even whilst business premises are largely unmanned, break-ins can be prevented through robust on-site access control measures. There are a number of ways in which businesses can restrict access to their buildings. For example, many firms use keypads, a password system, manned security, or locked gates. One of the most secure access control solutions is biometric security – biometric technology is very difficult to trick and makes it easy to implement role-based access control (RBAC) within a business, ensuring compliance with GDPR.

Top Tips for Preventing Unauthorised Access

Take the Time to Train Your Staff

A lot of security breaches can be prevented by training staff to recognise risks and report suspicious behaviour. It is also helpful to have a clear policy on building access and ensure that all staff members have read and understood the policy. Teaching employees about security best practices will not only help to keep them safe but will also prevent further problems later on down the line. If a worker then goes on to breach that policy, then it would help to lend more support to any subsequent disciplinary action.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Businesses should take action to prevent unauthorised access before it occurs. It’s impossible to reverse the effects of a break-in after it has taken place, so comprehensive measures must be put in place now to prevent theft, data breaches, and on-site injuries in the future.

Terms to Know

This post uses a number of key terms from the fields of access control and preventive medicine. For added clarity, we’ve listed some of these terms and defined them below.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

Role-based access control (RBAC) refers to access-control systems that operate by granting or denying access based on an individual’s role or position within an organisation. Certain zones within business premises can be designated as accessible only by particular teams or staff who are above a certain level in the company hierarchy.


Biometrics deals with measurements and calculations of the body. In access control, a biometric system refers to a setup whereby access is granted or denied based on a biological identification process such as fingerprint or iris scanning. Visit our blog on biometric security to find out more about how this technology could benefit your business.

Respiratory Etiquette

In the context of a pandemic, the phrase respiratory etiquette refers to more than just covering your mouth when you cough. To prevent the spread of viruses including COVID-19, it’s vital that we catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue where possible, placing them directly into a bin. If this isn’t possible, you should cough into your elbow rather than your hands (and avoid coughing in the direction of other people).

Closing Thoughts

As a lot of issues have been covered over the course of this blog post, a summary of the main takeaways is provided below:

  • Unauthorised access occurs when an individual enters a restricted space without permission to do so. Stolen keys, unlocked doors, and tailgating are all common means by which unauthorised parties gain entry to prohibited zones.
  • It’s important to prevent unauthorised access because theft, injury, data breaches, or antisocial behaviour may occur; the potential transmission of COVID-19 is currently an additional threat.
  • Businesses must prevent unauthorised staff members from gaining access to restricted areas and put measures in place to stop the transmission of COVID-19. To achieve this, you should implement zone access mechanisms; recurring shift patterns; clear prohibitive signage; social distancing measures, and techniques such as hand washing, respiratory etiquette, and workplace cleanliness.
  • Keeping customers or clients out of restricted, staff-only areas is equally essential, so appropriate prohibitive signs and access control mechanisms should be used.
  • There is an additional security threat now that many business premises are unmanned – strategically placed CCTV cameras and access control mechanisms such as biometric security can help to prevent break-ins.
  • Staff must be trained so that they are fully aware of all security protocols and best practices, including which areas they are allowed to be in and how to report suspicious activity.

The single most important piece of advice offered in this post is that your business should act now, putting preventative measures in place before unauthorised access occurs. The consequences of failing your company failing to do so could be severe and cannot be reversed.

Need some advice on the best way to prevent unauthorised access to your building or areas of your business? Download our brochure on access control today for more information about your available options, or talk to a member of our team today.

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Mitrefinch needs the contact information you provide to us to contact you about our products and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For information on how to unsubscribe, as well as our privacy practices and commitment to protecting your privacy, please review our Privacy Policy.

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