Museum security, like art, is ever-changing.  Traditional security practices like manned guarding alone are not sufficient to keep thieves at bay. Modern security technologies such as video surveillance, motions detectors, intruder alarms and other physical security devices also play an equally important role in securing museums and its art work. Regrettably, having all these security measures in place does not always guarantee safety and thieves sometimes still manage to steal art work through deceptive tactics. “The Mona Lisa” by Leonardo, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch (twice, but two different versions), “Poppy Flowers” by van Gogh (twice), “Harlequin Head” by Picasso, and “Jacob de Gheyn III” by Rembrandt (a staggering four times). What do these paintings have in common? They have all been stolen from museums.  Museum security – best practices Any museum director must strike a delicate balance between providing a sanctuary and a showplace for art works. Galleries seek both to protect and to welcome. For the legitimate visitor, museum security should be nearly invisible. For the would-be criminal, it should be apparent, but not so obvious as to make hostile reconnaissance a worthwhile practice. Spend a few hours in a selection of galleries in any major city and you’ll note that on the whole, attendants are indeed welcoming. They tend to be amiable blazered men in their 60s who are filling in time while on a pension from a former career in the police or armed forces. You would back them to prove zealous in confiscating a selfie-stick from a tourist (largely banned, though frequently still used) but might be less confident of the outcome if they had to confront a determined thief or vandal. Galleries need guards who are physically strong, observant and not beyond early middle age. (A standard gag among criminals is that staff are often of the same vintage as the exhibits they are guarding.) Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, makes the pragmatic point that gallery curators should assess thoroughly the security measures at any museum that they are going to entrust with a loan item. In 1994, the Tate in London lent two paintings by Turner to a museum in Frankfurt that shares its premises with a music college and at the time had no perimeter security. The Turners were stolen by thieves working for Serbian gangsters and a ransom in excess of $4.5 million was paid by Tate from charitable monies with little attempt made at apprehending the criminals. One of the paintings was recovered from the garage of a Frankfurt mechanic who had a sideline as a Dean Martin impersonator. Yes, really. CCTV vs. human response The consensus among curators that technology has much to offer but will never replace the human response is difficult to argue with, but only if we are confident that guards will prove tobe consistently alert and conscientious. Scepticism about the merits of video surveillance prompts many museums to pay more attention to installing CCTV in their gift shops than in the exhibition halls. Traditional curators are also reluctant to allow a battery anywhere near a painting for fear that acid may be leaked. They argue that unless CCTV is scrutinised non-stop by guards (and few institutions have the manpower for this) it merely gives a record of the theft. This was the case three years ago when a Salvador Dali painting was taken from a brand-new gallery on Madison Avenue. Management had a high-resolution clip from an IP camera and little else to go on.  Use of proximity alarms The principal focus of London-based ArtWatch UK is to protect works from inappropriate restoration techniques and careless or demeaning treatment. But Michael Daley naturally keeps an eye on security issues and has some horror stories to relate that suggest proximity alarms are not being used. He says: “Only recently I was shown a photograph of a curator signing a form by placing the paper on the vertical surface of a Rembrandt.” He continues: “At a preeminent gallery in the U.S., I saw a group of teenagers having their photograph taken and being instructed to keep moving back so that they could all be in the frame. They ended up leaning against a canvas with one boy’s elbow depressing it sharply. Only when I shouted at them did either the guard or their teacher notice what was happening.” London’s National Gallery theft incident Museum parlance for somebody who enters a gallery as a visitor through the normal route and remains after hours is a “stay behind.” A bizarre theft involving a stay behind (possibly better categorised as a protest rather than a serious attempt to steal) occurred at London’s National Gallery early one morning in August 1961. As part of a campaign against the perceived injustice of low-income pensioners being charged to buy a license to watch public television broadcasts, Kempton Bunton eased his way out of a toilet window leading on to Trafalgar Square carrying a portrait bust of Napoleon by Goya under his arm. He had arrived as a regular visitor the previous day and hidden overnight. Bunton had done his research and was aware that the gallery’s infrared motion sensors were switched off while cleaners readied the building for the day. A disabled former bus driver in his 60s and weighing 240 pounds, he was an unlikely burglar. The next time you watch the Bond film Dr No (shot six months after the theft) look for Sean Connery walking past an oil painting in the villain’s underwater Jamaican headquarters. “So that’s where it went!” The painting was returned safely in 1965 when, with an anticlimactic gesture, Bunton deposited it at the left luggage lockers of a Birmingham railway station. Biggest art theft in US history Major art heists often feature audacity that defeats even thorough security protocol. An unsolved 1990 theft at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum involving 13 paintings valued at $500 million began when a pair of criminals presented themselves at the gallery door late at night dressed as policemen and claiming they were responding to a call amid the hoopla of St Patrick’s Day celebrations. They were buzzed in and one of the two duty guards foolishly left his desk (which featured a panic button.) Both guards soon found themselves duct-taped to pipes in the basement. The theft is the largest ever art haul and included Rembrandt’s only seascape, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” This painting remains in our popular culture, being seen in films and even featuring in an episode of “The Simpsons.”  “They have cameras at McDonald’s but we weren’t allowed to install them” Ingenuity can also extend to diversionary tactics and escape methods. In December 2000, criminals brought an already busy Stockholm city centre to gridlock by abandoning a pair of cars outside major hotels and setting them afire. Meanwhile, at the National Museum, their colleagues stole a Rembrandt and two Renoirs, making their getaway along the river Norrström in a tatty second-hand speedboat they had bought a few days earlier. In a remarkably blunt and no doubt emotional press conference, Agneta Karlström of the museum said: “They have cameras at McDonald’s but we weren’t allowed to install them.” Staying in Scandinavia, art security specialists noted a depressing development in Oslo in 2004 when one of the several versions of “The Scream” painted by Edvard Munch was stolen from the Munch Museum. Thieves had been armed before but in this case they were wielding machine guns during opening hours and gave the impression they would not hesitate to use them
Major art heists often feature audacity that defeats even the most thorough security protocols
  

Museum security, like art, is ever-changing. Traditional security practices like manned guarding alone are not sufficient to keep thieves at bay. Modern security technologies such as video surveillance, motions detectors, intruder alarms and other physical security devices also play an equally important role in securing museums and its art work. Regrettably, having all these security measures in place does not always guarantee safety and thieves sometimes still manage to steal art work through deceptive tactics.

“The Mona Lisa” by Leonardo, “The Scream” by Edvard Munch (twice, but two different versions), “Poppy Flowers” by van Gogh (twice), “Harlequin Head” by Picasso, and “Jacob de Gheyn III” by Rembrandt (a staggering four times). What do these paintings have in common? They have all been stolen from museums.

Museum Security – Best Practices

Any museum director must strike a delicate balance between providing a sanctuary and a showplace for art works. Galleries seek both to protect and to welcome. For the legitimate visitor, museum security should be nearly invisible. For the would-be criminal, it should be apparent, but not so obvious as to make hostile reconnaissance a worthwhile practice. Spend a few hours in a selection of galleries in any major city and you’ll note that on the whole, attendants are indeed welcoming. They tend to be amiable blazered men in their 60s who are filling in time while on a pension from a former career in the police or armed forces. You would back them to prove zealous in confiscating a selfie-stick from a tourist (largely banned, though frequently still used) but might be less confident of the outcome if they had to confront a determined thief or vandal.

Galleries need guards who are physically strong, observant and not beyond early middle age. (A standard gag among criminals is that staff are often of the same vintage as the exhibits they are guarding.)

Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, makes the pragmatic point that gallery curators should assess thoroughly the security measures at any museum that they are going to entrust with a loan item. In 1994, the Tate in London lent two paintings by Turner to a museum in Frankfurt that shares its premises with a music college and at the time had no perimeter security. The Turners were stolen by thieves working for Serbian gangsters and a ransom in excess of $4.5 million was paid by Tate from charitable monies with little attempt made at apprehending the criminals. One of the paintings was recovered from the garage of a Frankfurt mechanic who had a sideline as a Dean Martin impersonator. Yes, really.

CCTV Vs. Human Response

A standard gag among criminals is that staff are often of the same vintage as the exhibits they are guarding

The consensus among curators that technology has much to offer but will never replace the human response is difficult to argue with, but only if we are confident that guards will prove to be consistently alert and conscientious. Skepticism about the merits of video surveillance prompts many museums to pay more attention to installing CCTV in their gift shops than in the exhibition halls. Traditional curators are also reluctant to allow a battery anywhere near a painting for fear that acid may be leaked. They argue that unless CCTV is scrutinised non-stop by guards (and few institutions have the manpower for this) it merely gives a record of the theft. This was the case three years ago when a Salvador Dali painting was taken from a brand-new gallery on Madison Avenue. Management had a high-resolution clip from an IP camera and little else to go on.

Use Of Proximity Alarms

The principal focus of London-based ArtWatch UK is to protect works from inappropriate restoration techniques and careless or demeaning treatment. But Michael Daley naturally keeps an eye on security issues and has some horror stories to relate that suggest proximity alarms are not being used. He says: “Only recently I was shown a photograph of a curator signing a form by placing the paper on the vertical surface of a Rembrandt.” He continues: “At a preeminent gallery in the U.S., I saw a group of teenagers having their photograph taken and being instructed to keep moving back so that they could all be in the frame. They ended up leaning against a canvas with one boy’s elbow depressing it sharply. Only when I shouted at them did either the guard or their teacher notice what was happening.”

London’s National Gallery Theft Incident

Museum parlance for somebody who enters a gallery as a visitor through the normal route and remains after hours is a “stay behind.” A bizarre theft involving a stay behind (possibly better categorized as a protest rather than a serious attempt to steal) occurred at London’s National Gallery early one morning in August 1961. As part of a campaign against the perceived injustice of low-income pensioners being charged to buy a license to watch public television broadcasts, Kempton Bunton eased his way out of a bathroom window leading on to Trafalgar Square carrying a portrait bust of Napoleon by Goya under his arm. He had arrived as a regular visitor the previous day and hidden overnight.

Bunton had done his research and was aware that the gallery’s infrared motion sensors were switched off while cleaners readied the building for the day. A disabled former bus driver in his 60s and weighing 240 pounds, he was an unlikely burglar. The next time you watch the Bond film Dr No (shot six months after the theft) look for Sean Connery walking past an oil painting in the villain’s underwater Jamaican headquarters. “So that’s where it went!” The painting was returned safely in 1965 when, with an anticlimactic gesture, Bunton deposited it at the left luggage lockers of a Birmingham railway station.

Scepticism about the merits of
video surveillance prompts
many museums to pay more
attention to installing CCTV in
their gift shops than in the
exhibition halls

Biggest Art Theft In US History

Major art heists often feature audacity that defeats even thorough security protocol. An unsolved 1990 theft at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum involving 13 paintings valued at $500 million began when a pair of criminals presented themselves at the gallery door late at night dressed as policemen and claiming they were responding to a call amid the hoopla of St Patrick’s Day celebrations. They were buzzed in and one of the two duty guards foolishly left his desk (which featured a panic button.) Both guards soon found themselves duct-taped to pipes in the basement. The theft is the largest ever art haul and included Rembrandt’s only seascape, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” This painting remains in our popular culture, being seen in films and even featuring in an episode of “The Simpsons.”

"They have cameras at McDonald’s But we weren’t allowed to install them"

Ingenuity can also extend to diversionary tactics and escape methods. In December 2000, criminals brought an already busy Stockholm city center to gridlock by abandoning a pair of cars outside major hotels and setting them afire. Meanwhile, at the National Museum, their colleagues stole a Rembrandt and two Renoirs, making their getaway along the river Norrström in a tatty second-hand speedboat they had bought a few days earlier. In a remarkably blunt and no doubt emotional press conference, Agneta Karlström of the museum said: “They have cameras at McDonald’s but we weren’t allowed to install them.” Staying in Scandinavia, art security specialists noted a depressing development in Oslo in 2004 when one of the several versions of “The Scream” painted by Edvard Munch was stolen from the Munch Museum. Thieves had been armed before but in this case they were wielding machine guns during opening hours and gave the impression they would not hesitate to use them.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

Jeremy Malies European Correspondent, SourceSecurity.com

Jeremy Malies is a veteran marketeer and writer specializing in the physical security sector which he has covered for 20 years. He has specific interests in video analytics, video management, perimeter intrusion and access control.

In case you missed it

Water Plant Attack Emphasizes Cyber’s Impact On Physical Security
Water Plant Attack Emphasizes Cyber’s Impact On Physical Security

At an Oldsmar, Fla., water treatment facility on Feb. 5, an operator watched a computer screen as someone remotely accessed the system monitoring the water supply and increased the amount of sodium hydroxide from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million. The chemical, also known as lye, is used in small concentrations to control acidity in the water. In larger concentrations, the compound is poisonous – the same corrosive chemical used to eat away at clogged drains. The impact of cybersecurity attacks The incident is the latest example of how cybersecurity attacks can translate into real-world, physical security consequences – even deadly ones.Cybersecurity attacks on small municipal water systems have been a concern among security professionals for years. The computer system was set up to allow remote access only to authorized users. The source of the unauthorized access is unknown. However, the attacker was only in the system for 3 to 5 minutes, and an operator corrected the concentration back to 100 parts per million soon after. It would have taken a day or more for contaminated water to enter the system. In the end, the city’s water supply was not affected. There were other safeguards in place that would have prevented contaminated water from entering the city’s water supply, which serves around 15,000 residents. The remote access used for the attack was disabled pending an investigation by the FBI, Secret Service and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. On Feb. 2, a compilation of breached usernames and passwords, known as COMB for “Compilation of Many Breaches,” was leaked online. COMB contains 3.2 billion unique email/password pairs. It was later discovered that the breach included the credentials for the Oldsmar water plant. Water plant attacks feared for years Cybersecurity attacks on small municipal water systems have been a concern among security professionals for years. Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that the attempt to poison the water supply should be treated as a “matter of national security.” “The incident at the Oldsmar water treatment plant is a reminder that our nation’s critical infrastructure is continually at risk; not only from nation-state attackers, but also from malicious actors with unknown motives and goals,” comments Mieng Lim, VP of Product Management at Digital Defense Inc., a provider of vulnerability management and threat assessment solutions.The attack on Oldsmar’s water treatment system shows how critical national infrastructure is increasingly becoming a target for hackers as organizations bring systems online “Our dependency on critical infrastructure – power grids, utilities, water supplies, communications, financial services, emergency services, etc. – on a daily basis emphasizes the need to ensure the systems are defended against any adversary,” Mieng Lim adds. “Proactive security measures are crucial to safeguard critical infrastructure systems when perimeter defenses have been compromised or circumvented. We have to get back to the basics – re-evaluate and rebuild security protections from the ground up.” "This event reinforces the increasing need to authenticate not only users, but the devices and machine identities that are authorized to connect to an organization's network,” adds Chris Hickman, Chief Security Officer at digital identity security vendor Keyfactor. “If your only line of protection is user authentication, it will be compromised. It's not necessarily about who connects to the system, but what that user can access once they're inside. "If the network could have authenticated the validity of the device connecting to the network, the connection would have failed because hackers rarely have possession of authorized devices. This and other cases of hijacked user credentials can be limited or mitigated if devices are issued strong, crypto-derived, unique credentials like a digital certificate. In this case, it looks like the network had trust in the user credential but not in the validity of the device itself. Unfortunately, this kind of scenario is what can happen when zero trust is your end state, not your beginning point." “The attack on Oldsmar’s water treatment system shows how critical national infrastructure is increasingly becoming a target for hackers as organizations bring systems online for the first time as part of digital transformation projects,” says Gareth Williams, Vice President - Secure Communications & Information Systems, Thales UK. “While the move towards greater automation and connected switches and control systems brings unprecedented opportunities, it is not without risk, as anything that is brought online immediately becomes a target to be hacked.” Operational technology to mitigate attacks Williams advises organizations to approach Operational Technology as its own entity and put in place procedures that mitigate against the impact of an attack that could ultimately cost lives. This means understanding what is connected, who has access to it and what else might be at risk should that system be compromised, he says. “Once that is established, they can secure access through protocols like access management and fail-safe systems.”  “The cyberattack against the water supply in Oldsmar should come as a wakeup call,” says Saryu Nayyar, CEO, Gurucul.  “Cybersecurity professionals have been talking about infrastructure vulnerabilities for years, detailing the potential for attacks like this, and this is a near perfect example of what we have been warning about,” she says.  Although this attack was not successful, there is little doubt a skilled attacker could execute a similar infrastructure attack with more destructive results, says Nayyar. Organizations tasked with operating and protecting critical public infrastructure must assume the worst and take more serious measures to protect their environments, she advises. Fortunately, there were backup systems in place in Oldsmar. What could have been a tragedy instead became a cautionary tale. Both physical security and cybersecurity professionals should pay attention.

Expert Roundup: Healthy Buildings, Blockchain, AI, Skilled Workers, And More
Expert Roundup: Healthy Buildings, Blockchain, AI, Skilled Workers, And More

Our Expert Panel Roundtable is an opinionated group. However, for a variety of reasons, we are sometimes guilty of not publishing their musings in a timely manner. At the end of 2020, we came across several interesting comments among those that were previously unpublished. Following is a catch-all collection of those responses, addressing some of the most current and important issues in the security marketplace in 2021.

Smart Offices: How Is Mobile ID Changing The Way We Access The Office?
Smart Offices: How Is Mobile ID Changing The Way We Access The Office?

If you’re a security or facilities manager, you may already be aware of the quiet revolution that’s taking place across businesses and organizations up and down the country. By the end of 2020, 20% of all ID and access control systems featured mobile capability, and this is set to increase by a further 34% over the next three years. There’s no doubt that using a smartphone or mobile device in place of traditional credential and access control is a growing trend that’s only been sped up by the pandemic. It’s true that many businesses are still very much focused on remote working, although many are now starting to implement new-and-improved strategies that are better suited to protect the workforce moving forward. Mobile ID systems As the next normal becomes clearer, businesses will be reviewing procedures such as access control, occupancy monitoring, reducing touch points, and tracking visitors. Mobile ID systems are ideally suited to this task. But what are the key reasons for considering such a setup in 2021? But why is this new technology so well-suited to future-proof your physical access system, and why is it becoming so popular? Eradicating outdated legacy credentials Have you seen just how vulnerable outdated Proximity card technology can be? Low-frequency 125kHz cards can be cloned in a matter of seconds with the use of cheap, readily available tools. Despite their weaknesses, they are still used by a huge majority of businesses – big and small. All smartphones include two industry-standard features that make them perfect for operating a secure, contactless credential Replacing such a system with a mobile-enabled system is one of the best ways to increase security ten-fold. Thanks to a cloud-based infrastructure, mobile ID offers best-in-class security and cryptography. All smartphones include two industry-standard features that make them perfect for operating a secure, contactless credential. Bluetooth Smart and NFC (Near Field Communication) make them the best product to operate such a credential via a secure app. If you’re looking for best-in-class security in 2021, mobile access is most definitely the way forward. Removing touch points across the business Reducing touch points and the adoption of touchless facilities has become a key priority for businesses in the wake of COVID-19. Even as businesses start to return to the office and operate a home/office split, it will be imperative that unnecessary contact is kept to an absolute minimum between staff. The traditional issuance of identification and access control credentials can pose problems in this regard. Facility and security managers who are responsible for onboarding and processing ID have done the process face to face. Mobile access makes it possible to carry this process out without people coming into direct content. First, the security manager has access to a secure portal, allowing them to create, manage and edit credentials anywhere. They can upload and remotely transfer mobile ID and access control credentials directly to users’ smartphones over the air. Via the secure app, users can view and see their credentials and immediately begin using it for ID and access control by simply placing their smartphone over card readers. Enabling a more flexible way of working The way in which we work has changed for good. Even as people more people return to the office in 2021, a majority of businesses will be operating a home/office split indefinitely. This once again reinforces the need for a smarter, more adaptable onboarding system. Implementing mobile ID is the perfect way of doing this: over-the-air delivery of credentials and security data is now a given, helping businesses create the perfect balance between the home and the office. No longer do people have to come into the office for the onboarding process. Increasing convenience and user experience More often businesses are realising the value mobile ID can have for enhancing the work experience as well as security Ok, so mobile ID is the perfect way of increasing security and adapting workplaces to a post-COVID way of working. And we’ve not even touched on the most obvious advantage yet: Convenience. How many times have you forgotten your ID card? We’re sure it’s more times than you forget your smartphone. These powerful processors have become intertwined with the way we carry out tasks on a daily basis. They’re so vital that people will soon notice if they’ve forgotten it. From an employee’s perspective, mobile ID and access control is simple, convenient, and extremely user-friendly. More and more businesses are realizing the value mobile ID can have for enhancing the work experience as well as security. From the employer’s perspective, mobile ID means it’s easier for administrators to manage access and credentials. Future-proofing access control now will ensure that in the longer term, mobile ID is well worth the investment. The annual expenditure of printing ID cards and purchasing credentials can be vast, while reissuance costs can also quickly add up for larger organizations. These issues are a thing of the past for businesses using mobile ID. Mobile ID perfect tool for 2021 and beyond Until mobile ID, new and improved credentials’ main focus was on increasing security. Mobile ID not only delivers that, but it also provides a more convenient way of accessing the office in a way that’s perfectly suited to returning to the office in 2021. If there was ever a time to upgrade, now is the time. Summing up, mobile access is changing the way we access the office by: Eliminating weak links in security systems such as outdated legacy card technologies Eradicating the need for touch points across multiple areas of the workplace Enabling a smarter, more flexible approach to onboarding Increasing convenience – for both employers and employees.