Physical access refers to actual hands-on, on-site access to computer and network hardware, or other parts of a hardware installation. Key issues with physical access revolve around security and authenticated use of hardware environments, from typical workstation cubicles to server rooms and other places where unauthorized physical access could lead to security risks.
Security experts and others often contrast "physical access" with "logical access", where users interact with hardware through remote setups like Internet protocol access methods. With physical access, it’s important to guard hardware by protecting the environment where it is housed. Many outside consultants consider physical access part of overall risk management. Companies typically protect hardware setups from unauthorized physical access through the same common security procedures that protect trade secrets and everything else at a business location. These protections include ID badges and security gates at buildings, as well as more advanced methods like biometric identification. Another component of this security method is the identification of key "super users," who are vetted and may even hold security clearances. All of this is important in avoiding the risks associated with unauthorized physical access.
While unauthorized physical access is an issue in the business world, it has also been an issue in other parts of the IT world. One prime example is in the voting controversies of the American electoral procedure. In past years, issues around the physical hardware used in elections brought out certain physical access controversies related to potential hacking of the equipment used for voting, including the idea that unauthorized persons could use a simple USB flash drive to compromise voting equipment. These are the same kinds of issues that drive physical access evaluation in any business or organization that needs to screen visitors at a particular location housing hardware setups.