Protecting against cargo theft, once a secondary concern to shippers and carriers, is now an intrinsic part of doing business. Keeping a trailer or container locked is, of course, the easiest way to keep thieves out. Dozens of locks and seals are available to help companies do just that, with new, high-tech options rapidly hitting the market.

The transport and logistics sector in the UK is under attack and road freight crime is costing the UK economy a staggering £250 million every year according to a Home Office report of Lorry Crime Prevention.  As more high-value goods move through the supply chain the problem is expected to escalate. The cargo security industry, once limited to basic padlocks, has expanded to include a wide array of mechanical seals and locks of varying strengths.

Cargo Seal Types and Benefits

Metal seals are available in two different forms—indicative seals and barrier seals. Made of plastic or thin strips of metal, indicative seals change shape or composition when tampered with, giving you clear evidence of unauthorised entry to cargo. An indicative seal may show a “blush mark” or white stripe, for instance, in the area that has been tampered with. The most basic option for locking containers and trailers are indicative seals, which are usually inexpensive and provide a minimum level of tamper security.

The most prominent barrier seal types are bolt seals and cable seals which are made in varying tensile strengths and diameters. As a general rule of thumb, the thicker the seal diameter, the stronger the seal. A high-security seal usually has a diameter of about 3mm or more, and offers a greater degree of security.

In order to be classified as high-security and used to secure freight containers in international commerce, seals must meet a series of physical strength requirements set by the

International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Upon U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issuing their now standard regulation (ISO 17712), it became mandatory for shippers and carriers  to secure cargo according to these minimum specifications for high-security.

JW Products conforms to ISO17712 industry standards and our company’s 3.5mm metal cable seal, which secures container and trailer hardware as well as their keeper bars, was approved by HMRC as a Class 1 Barrier Seal and listed on the government website as a recommended seal for border transport. The cable seal is applied by threading the metal cable through trailer doors or container handles and then inserted back inside the locking mechanism to secure the seal. In order to remove, wire cutters are required to cut through the wire and release the seal from the cargo lock entirely.

Protecting Cargo and Tamper Awareness

Protecting your cargo always starts with preventing or at the very least, limiting the opportunities for third party intrusion. As a rule, it is important to not let your cargo routes or destinations be known. If thieve becomes aware of the supply chain route, this allows them target you more easily. Implement company-wide policies, so your employees won’t accidentally spread the word or documentation may be easily accessed by unauthorised third-parties.

It is also advisable to conduct internal audits at the distribution centre. Assessing your distribution centre is an important part of making sure the cargo does not go missing. Internal theft is a problem for distributors, so making sure you have adequate recording systems and surveillance technology is key.

Whether a company selects seals, tracking technology, or a combination of both, how are they to know what level of load protection is necessary? All shipments are potentially at risk, but to assess what level of security to employ, companies must first consider the type of goods being hauled. Whilst barrier seals provide a strong deterrent against thieves, their application is not an absolute guarantee that theft and tampering will not occur. Shippers must employ efficient checks and implement a structure for inspection in order to verify serial numbers on the seal and confirm the shipment has not been tampered with upon arrival at its destination.

However, no matter how effective a security process you may have in place, some thieves may remain determined when it comes to accessing secured cargo. It is therefore key that every individual within your supply chain is trained on identifying the signs of tampering on cargo secured by tamper-evident seals.

Seal violation takes various forms: opening and closing and hiding the breakpoint to fool the inspector, substitution of parts, modification of marking, or substitution of whole (clone) seals. The initial discovery of tampering may take place when the seal is cut and taken out of use. It may also be found on examination of the seal after it is opened by the user and checked at another location.

If not examined by an informed person, tampering or violation of the security seal may be discovered too late – or even worse – not at all. This demonstrates the necessity for drivers to be fully trained in checking seal integrity and instructed to perform multiple checks at varying stages of their journey to validate that the seal remained intact at the inspection intervals.

If you do not have a security specialist in your company or cannot afford to contract one, JW Products can provide advice and basic instructions to answer your seal application questions and walk you through available tamper deterrents.

Differences between Security Seals and Locks

There are many different methods for sealing and securing cargo and goods. However, it is important to remember that these methods are not interchangeable and every security tool has characteristics that make it better suited for varying individual needs. For example, security locks and security seals are both effective tools, but have substantial differences that make a big difference in application. Here are some main differences between security seals and security locks that can impact their application.

Tamper-evident: Security seals are designed to be tamper-evident, meaning there is clear, visible evidence when someone tries to break the seal. Seals that are sequentially numbered or uniquely labelled cannot be replicated, so any attempt of tampering cannot be covered up. Locks can sometimes be defeated with force, but can also be replaced – leaving no sign of unauthorised access. For industries where tamper evidence is a high priority–like pharmaceuticals or agriculture/food transport–security seals may be a much safer option.

Price: Typically, security seals are less expensive than security locks. While this is an important point to consider for many companies, it should be understood that security is an investment, and failing to properly secure goods is far more costly than purchasing the proper security device for the situation.

Application: The operation of security seals differs from that of security locks. Locks require keys or codes to operate, while seals require data – demanding the user to log serial numbers or scan barcodes for accurate tracking. Seals are typically removed more quickly and easily, which is a benefit to the user but can also provide a similar degree of security when using high-security barrier seals. Security seals come in a variety of sizes, lengths, and styles, and can usually be customized to fit specific needs.

There are other differences between these products, but these are the main ones that most affect their applications. If you are unsure which product will best fit your needs, you can always layer security methods. Combining different methods is the best way to ensure security and strongly recommended for high-value or sensitive goods-in-transit.


JW Products have been servicing the security seal requirements of the transport, haulage and aviation industry worldwide, for over 20 years. We have built a reputation for reliability, expertise and excellence since our conception in 2000 and we are ready to help your business thrive in a post Brexit world. You can rely on our dedicated team to identify your business’s security seal requirements and offer approved solutions to meet them. We offer high security tamper proof security seals, conforming to ISO 17712:2013 and effective tamper evident seals, to help your business meet regulatory standards and protect your assets. As a trusted supplier to Government Agencies, NHS and UK Police Forces, your business can engage with JW Products with confidence.