Can CCTV camera security systems stop employee theft?

A survey of British workers found that insider and employee stealing of confidential personal data is a problem -- leading to security breaches -- as well as theft of corporate merchandise -- laptops and televisions. Can CCTV cameras and systems in offices stop the problem?

From MPs fiddling their expenses and using our money to pay their kids for doing nothing, right down to employees stealing a stapler from the office cupboard, our capacity for dishonest and shady behaviour seems to know no bounds.

A survey of 3,000 British workers by the Travelodge group showed that expense-fiddling and employee theft is rife throughout business, with the average worker bumping up his or her expenses by £204 a year. Some of the outrageous claims included a motorbike, personalised number plates for a BMW, £1000-worth of hair extensions, and the purchase of a pet hamster (called Barry) for the office.

Another survey of nearly 1500 people revealed that 78% of them admitted to stealing something from their place of work. Office stationery – often considered a legitimate perk -- was excluded from the poll, but the range of goods swiped from offices ranged from laptops and televisions to the boss's desk and even an office pet (could it have been Barry?). On average, people admitted to stealing goods worth £930 over their career, with some topping £5000.

Confidential personal data was also mentioned in the poll although its value was hard to calculate. But it's clear that with the general publicity over recent data breaches, data theft has a bright future. If they hadn't spotted it before, thieves now know that data can be worth a lot to the right people, and it's easy to copy, easier to shift than a desk, and doesn't need feeding like the office pet.

The sponsor of the second survey, a private investigation company, suggested that CCTV camera security systems in offices are an effective way of preventing office pilfering, but could it be useful in preventing data theft?

Sarb Sembhi, an expert in data security and CCTV, said many offices already have CCTV camera security systems, and of course, CCTV has become a standard fixture in retail stores. But he reckons many companies give little thought to what they will do with the CCTV footage if they spot a crime.

"Many systems' quality is not good enough to be used as evidence in court, and couldn't definitely identify someone," he said. "You have to decide whether you are intending to use it to identify and prosecute people, or whether it's just to see who's hanging around in the offices at any time."

You also need to pay heed to the law too. Some retailers tried to cut down on shoplifting by installing CCTV in toilets, which breached human rights legislation, he said.

Worst still, some wireless CCTV security systems work on the same bandwidth as cordless phones and have no security whatsoever, which means outsiders can spy on what the cameras are doing. Other IP-based systems tend to be left with their factory settings for user ID and password, making them easy to penetrate as well.

Sembhi's advice is to call in the police to advise on what CCTV cameras to buy, how many to install, and where to place them. "CCTV will never be enough by itself, but if you use it as part of an overall security system, then it can be useful."

And it might let you know who pinched Barry.


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