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Are Keyless Door Locks Safe?

You may be surprised to learn that digital locks are not a modern phenomenon. The earliest device - which would open only at a pre-set time - was invented by James Sargent in 1873. Sargent even created an advanced time delay lock in 1880 that could be set to open automatically at a specific time. 

With the latest advancements in digital technology, electronic locks have evolved into sophisticated devices that provide smart and intuitive electronic security for our homes. Keyless door locks, or smart locks, as they're often called, eliminate the need for traditional keys, allowing you to lock or unlock your doors with a personalized code, a smartphone, a biometric fingerprint, or even your voice. 

As we embrace this technology, however, it's vital to ensure we fully understand how it works, and, crucially, how safe it is. In this blog, the team at Access Residential Hardware addresses these concerns and provides a balanced perspective on keyless door locks. With the appropriate knowledge and precautions, you can maximize the potential benefits of this technology while minimizing any risks. 

Understanding Keyless Door Locks

Keyless door locks are an innovation in lock technology that provide several advantages over traditional lock-and-key systems. Their operating principle varies depending on the type of keyless lock, but the core idea remains the same: to grant secure access without the need for a physical key.

There are several types of keyless door locks, each with their unique mechanisms:

  • Code-Based Keyless Locks: These locks operate using a numeric keypad where a pre-set code is entered. Some advanced models allow you to set multiple codes, giving temporary access to guests or service providers.

  • Card or Fob-Based locks: Mostly found in hotels and offices, these locks work by swiping a card or fob with an embedded chip that sends a signal to unlock the door.

  • Biometric Locks: These locks use unique physical or behavioral attributes such as fingerprints, retinal patterns, or voice for recognition and access. Fingerprints are the most common biometric used in residential keyless systems.

  • Smart Locks: The most advanced type, smart locks connect to your home’s WiFi or Bluetooth. They can be controlled remotely via a smartphone app, allowing you to lock and unlock your doors from anywhere. Many offer integration with home automation systems, enabling you to set routines or receive alerts when the door is unlocked.

The benefits and convenience offered by keyless door locks are numerous:

  • Enhanced Convenience: Keyless locks eliminate the need for keys, meaning you'll never be locked out because you've lost your key. It also means no more fumbling for keys when your hands are full.

  • Improved Security: Traditional keys can be copied or stolen, and locks can be picked. In contrast, a keyless lock system, particularly those with encryption, can offer improved security.

  • Controlled Access: You can control who enters your property and when, perfect for letting in guests or service providers. Some systems even log entry and exit times, providing an added level of security.

  • Integration with Smart Home Systems: Many smart locks can integrate with other smart devices in your home. For example, you can set your lights to turn on when you unlock your door, creating a welcoming environment as you step into your home.

Examining the Security Features of Keyless Door Locks

Keyless door locks come equipped with various security features that make them a safer and more secure alternative to traditional lock-and-key systems. Here's an overview of these features:

  • Encryption: Encryption is a method of encoding information such that only authorized parties can access it. Most smart locks use advanced encryption protocols (such as AES 128-bit encryption) for the data transmitted between the lock and your smartphone or other control device. This makes it extremely difficult for hackers to intercept and decode the data.

  • Authentication Mechanisms: The authentication mechanism is a critical component of keyless lock systems, especially smart locks. This could involve multi-factor authentication where you need to present two or more pieces of evidence (or factors) to an authentication mechanism. For instance, a smart lock may require both a fingerprint scan and a passcode.

  • Resistance to Physical Manipulation: Traditional locks can be picked or bumped open using special tools. In contrast, keyless door locks don't have a keyhole, making them immune to such techniques. Moreover, some models have built-in alarms that go off if someone tries to tamper with the lock, providing an additional layer of security.

  • Biometric Data Storage and Protection: Biometric locks use unique physical or behavioral characteristics such as fingerprints or retinal patterns for identification. These locks come equipped with secure storage to protect biometric data from unauthorized access. Moreover, the data is usually stored locally and not on the cloud, reducing the risk of data breaches.

  • Automatic Locking Features: Many keyless door locks have an auto-locking feature that secures the door within a set time after it's been unlocked. This ensures your door is always locked even if you forget to do so manually.

  • Access Control and Logs: Keyless systems allow you to control who has access to your property and when, with some even recording entry and exit times. This way, you can keep track of who's coming and going.

Potential Vulnerabilities and Risks

While keyless door locks offer many security advantages, no system is entirely infallible. As with any technological advancement, there are potential vulnerabilities. Below are some of the known concerns and associated risks:

  • Hacking: Keyless locks, especially smart locks that communicate wirelessly, could theoretically be hacked. Cybercriminals might attempt to intercept the wireless signals or exploit vulnerabilities in the software. The risk increases if the lock isn't kept up-to-date with the latest firmware and security patches.

  • Weak or Compromised Passwords: If the lock relies on a password or PIN for access and it's not adequately strong or has been shared with many people, there's a risk of unauthorized access. It's crucial to set strong, unique codes and change them regularly.

  • Technical Malfunctions: As with any electronic device, keyless locks can malfunction. They could fail due to a dead battery, software glitches, or connectivity issues. While these scenarios are generally rare, they're worth considering. 

  • Biometric Failures: Biometric locks are usually very secure, but they aren't perfect. For instance, a fingerprint scanner may fail to work correctly if the sensor is dirty or if the registered finger is injured.

  • Relay Attacks: Some smart locks could be vulnerable to "relay attacks." In this scenario, a thief could use a special device to amplify the signal from your key fob or smartphone that's inside your house, tricking your door into unlocking.

  • Physical Tampering: Despite being resistant to traditional lock picking methods, keyless locks could still be susceptible to physical tampering. Some might attempt to dismantle or damage the lock to gain access.

The good news is that many of these risks can be mitigated through proper use and maintenance. 

Best Practices for Securing Keyless Door Locks

Securing your keyless door locks involves more than just a good installation. Here are some best practices that can enhance the security of your keyless door locks:

  • Use High-Quality Locks: Opt for keyless door locks from reputable manufacturers. These companies invest more in security features and provide regular firmware and software updates. In addition, you should always keep your keyless door lock system updated: manufacturers often release software updates to patch potential vulnerabilities and enhance security features.

  • Regularly Update Passwords and Access Codes: Use unique codes that are not easily guessable. Avoid birthdays, anniversaries, or sequential numbers. The best codes are a random mix of numbers (and letters, if possible). Be sure to change your access codes regularly, particularly if you suspect that someone may have seen you input the code.

  • Enable Additional Security Measures: If your smart lock supports it, enable two-factor authentication. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification, such as a fingerprint or a prompt on your smartphone. The automatic locking feature, if available, ensures your door is locked a few moments after being unlocked, preventing you from accidentally leaving it open.

Remember, securing your home is a comprehensive approach. Keyless door locks can significantly enhance security, but they should be part of a larger security strategy that includes good lighting, secure windows, alarm systems, and vigilance about who has access to your home.

Trust Access Hardware for Your Keyless Door Lock Needs

Keyless door locks provide a high level of security, but they're just one piece of the home security puzzle. Ensuring you understand their potential vulnerabilities is crucial to fully benefit from the convenience and security they offer. If you still have concerns, mortise locks are a traditional option that still protect homes even in this more sophisticated age.

At Access Residential Hardware, we understand that home security is a priority and not a choice. That's why we carry a variety of keyless door locks from industry-leading and trusted brands like Emtek, Baldwin, and Yale. Each of these brands brings its unique strengths, giving you a plethora of options to choose from, and ensuring there is a solution that fits your specific needs and preferences. To learn more or place an order, please call us at 866.752.9002 or fill out this contact form.