Security systems through the ages; the changing face of locks, walls and data protection

Security has existed for as long as we’ve had something to protect; whether it’s herds of cattle, private letters, personal assets, property or digital data. 

Security has existed for as long as we’ve had something to protect; whether it’s herds of cattle, private letters, personal assets, property or digital data. 

Its evolution and development has always been under pressure to outperform those trying to bypass, encroach, sabotage or steal, and so it’s a very interesting field which is constantly progressing. 

The historical development from the most simple security to the most advanced measures is therefore both interesting and important in order for us to understand where this industry is going next, and what requirements clients may be looking for in future security systems – and why providers always need to be ahead of the market.

Security has never been a simple matter, however in the less complicated society of the past, it was only needed for three basic requirements – perimeter security, asset protection and, to some extent data protection. 

Perimeter security is the concept of keeping intruders out of an area. In ancient human history, this would have been achieved through fences and sheer human resource – people keeping other people out. Walls, battlements and watch-towers soon ensued when the building techniques allowed it. Because what’s more efficient than erecting a large physical barrier between yourself and intruders? The oldest walls found in existence are more than 10,000 years old. 

Although walls are effective to some degree, they become more useful when they interact as part of a system. 

In the first century AD, the Roman emperor Domitian built the Limes Germanicus, a vast network of roads, forts and watchtowers along the Rhine. It was the most significant accomplishment of his military career because it was a complete protective system which was exceedingly difficult for enemies to break. 

It’s the system that makes a security measure truly work. It might comprise of a fence and a padlock. Or a door, a wall and a cross beam. Or a door with a mechanical lock. Or, in our age, a wall with an electronic lock. 

The lock was an important development for security. The first lock dates back to ancient Assyria, around 4000 B.C and was made of wood and the concept of the lock hasn’t changed much for thousands of years. British craftsmen in the Middle Ages made the first all-metal warded locks, and in 1784 a man named Joseph Bramah designed a type of lock that is still in use some places today. In 1843, Linus Yale Sr patented the modern pin and tumbler lock and then his son, Linus Yale Jr improved the design, giving us the flat grooved key that is still used for many front doors today. 

Since then, endless variations of the lock have seen the light of day – we have locks for everything from bikes to cars to suitcases. A password protected padlock makes a key obsolete in some instances, the exception of course being electronic locks, such as the magnetic keycard invented in 1975 by a Norwegian named To Sornes for the hospitality industry. 

Before then, metal keys were in use in hotels. It was customary for guests to leave the key in the reception every time they left the hotel because no keys were allowed to leave the perimeters. This was a clunky but necessary security measure which was undoubtedly inconvenient for everyone involved. With magnetic keycards, this process was simplified. A keycard can be reset at the discretion of the hotel manager, and does not impose a breach if lost, thus improving both consumer convenience and security of the system. 

Electronic locks came at roughly the same time as many other modern security measures we still use today. 1942 was the first year that Closed Circuit TVs were used in Germany, and in 1960 was the first time security cameras were used to monitor the Thai royalty in England. From the 1970s, public surveillance cameras had become the norm both commercially and for government use. 

As electronic devices have become more sophisticated, so have the security systems protecting their data. While the internet has complicated the very concept of data protection, it has never been more important to have strong cyber security. We need to include a clever combination of all the measures of the past centuries – walls to keep intruders out, locks to protect assets, man power to assess perimeters based on electronic security systems, and firewalls to keep out malicious software. 

Electronic and internet-based security systems no longer seem radical today and it begs the question what the next step for security will be. Security is both about improving consumer convenience while making sure the system cannot be breached. We’re at a time in history where technology is rapidly progressing, and where consumers are accustomed to higher levels of security and convenience. With this in mind, it’s likely that the next step will be to address these needs with new technology seamlessly integrated into systems designed to make them stronger. 


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