Stopping Copper Theft: More than Security Cameras

According to FBI reports, copper thefts are on the rise, threatening our data infrastructure and causing millions of dollars in damage to businesses and residences worldwide. Computer networks are being compromised with increasingly frequency due to targeted copper thefts in electrical facilities and vacant businesses. The toll of the compromised systems can’t readily be measured in terms of cold hard facts. The evidence however is that copper theft takes a significant economic toll. In May of this year, the New York Times reported delays in subway lines due to ongoing thefts of pieces of power-transmitting copper cable.  It is important to understand why these thefts are occurring with such frequency and what can be done to protect copper wiring from theft.

What is copper theft?

Copper, along with other metals, has become a valuable commodity due to increasing global demand and the tightening of global copper supply. Copper thieves, usually working in groups but sometimes individually “harvest” copper from many different sites, like telecommunications yards, underground utility tunnels and unsecured cable carrying fixtures. Recently the groups have gotten bolder, targeting essential utilities that supply electricity, water and communications. Vulnerable data networks that use copper wiring suffer the most from these thefts. Criminal groups have formed because of the lucrative market for copper in China, India and developing countries worldwide.

Why is this happening more frequently now?

There are a number of reasons why copper theft has been on the rise. Economic forces are the chief factors driving the loss of installed or stored copper and other metals. Drug gangs find it easy to steal copper from old abandoned building and can get information quickly about foreclosures. The punishment for stealing copper isn’t currently strong enough to deter the thieves. OSP magazine says in an article this:  Most frustrating of all is that the EPA fines for burning the cable are much worse than the penalties for stealing the cable in the first place.” []

Lack of security is cited as another factor; it’s often overlooked as a spool of copper cable isn’t seen as a valuable commodity that someone would want to steal. Recycling copper at scrap metal facilities has become a $1 billion “industry” according to a July 2013 CNBC report.

How can copper thefts be stopped?

The strong market for copper is an incentive for the unscrupulous. Were the market price to go down, the copper thefts should decrease. However, the demand for copper remains high and the supply is limited. Organizations are starting to take countermeasures to deter would-be copper thieves. Increased off-hours security is one way to deter thieves. Enhancing existing regulations and enacting stricter rules for accepting scrap is another way to reduce the attractiveness of this particular crime. Businesses and government agencies can also collaborate with each other to report crimes.

What can I do to deter copper theft?

Businesses can be proactive in deterring copper thefts. Remote sensing like wireless security cameras and surveillance systems that are clearly visible to an intruder are both a good deterrents and provide police with a valuable tool for prosecution. Physical security measures like fences or guards also help turn away thieves. The best deterrent is a combination of both. Marking your copper is also a prudent way to both deter theft and recover copper. Southware Company has what they call Proof Positive® copper and copper-clad steel.

Another solution is a different kind of remote sensing that enables your cabling to tell you when something untoward is happening. Using an additional pair of strands incorporated into the main cabling, companies like CopperWATCH can provide equipment that tells an operator when and where a theft is occurring. Arrest rates jump from 12% to 65% when installed.

What do I need to do once the theft has happened?

Dealing with the aftermath of a copper theft isn’t easy. Your computer network may have been compromised. It is critically important that you take time to carefully record all the details of the theft and report it to the local police along with what your security cameras picked up. Consider also releasing a statement to the local press or other media for immediate publicity. You also want to replace the stolen copper as quickly as possible, especially if it’s connected to a critical systems like fire alarm or building security. Make a plan to secure your vital copper as tightly as possible by hiding it or hardening any conduits or access to wiring or plumbing.

NetQ Media has seen it all! We’ve helped hundreds of businesses, schools, hospitals and other government agencies to deal with their cabling issues, including data security. Have you suffered a theft? Call us for advice on how to recover. From state-of-the-art security cameras to fiber optic cabling for large campuses, We’ve got your back.