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Smart Locks: Safer Than Traditional Locks?

February 21, 2018


Locks have been a front line of defense for centuries. Most people don’t think too much about their home, office, or vehicle locks until they either get locked out or realize that the lock no longer works. Yet locks have come a long way in recent years, and today, technology has taken over. Smart locks are all the rage, but are they really any safer than traditional locks? Here’s what you should know.

What Are Traditional Locks?

A traditional lock is an old-school deadbolt, knob lock, or other lock that is manually operated. The majority of traditional locks use a key, at least to gain access from the outside. Pin-tumbler locks are arguably the most common type of traditional lock, at least for residential purposes.

In a pin-tumbler lock, the locking mechanism consists of a collection of cylinders featuring spring-loaded key pins and driver pins. When the proper key is inserted, the key pins and driver pins are pushed upward to align at the shear line. This disengages the pins and allows the key to turn to the locked or unlocked position. If the wrong key is inserted, the pins will not align, and the key will not turn.

How Secure Are Traditional Locks?

The answer to this is, it depends. Deadbolts are the most common type of pin and tumbler exterior residential lock, but they come in various grades, from 3 to 1, where 1 is the highest grade. Grading is based on a combination of strength, durability, and longevity, and is provided by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Additional features can further improve lock security, such as longer deadbolts and solid metal strike plates. In addition, some deadbolts are engineered to resist lock bumping, lock picking, and other common bypass techniques. It also matters where the lock is placed and how often it is used. Finally, traditional locks can be merged with technology to improve their security, such as by adding motion sensors and a security camera near the door.

In short, traditional locks can be quite secure. The onus falls on the homeowner to choose Grade 1 exterior deadbolts with extra security features, and possibly to install technology to further protect the home.

What Are Smart Locks?

Smart locks can be understood as an automated version of a traditional lock. The majority of smart locks use traditional locking mechanisms, but are engaged electronically or remotely rather than manually. They can typically be operated by smartphone, and most can integrate seamlessly with other smart devices.

Smart locks also require a key, just not a physical one. Instead, a smart lock receives a cryptographic key from an authorized device. It also allows you to monitor the status of the lock via a device such as your smartphone. Most smart locks allow temporary keys to be distributed to third parties, which can be set to automatically expire or can be shut off at any time.

Smart locks can be quite convenient, especially for parents whose kids tend to lose physical keys, as well as those who need to allow occasional or one-time home access to babysitters, dog walkers, repair personnel, and the like. However, convenience does not always equal security.

How Secure Are Smart Locks?

Like traditional locks, the answer to this is also, it depends. Many smart locks are designed to work with existing deadbolts, meaning that the physical security of the lock is exactly the same as it was before the smart technology was overlaid. Other smart locks come with their own hardware, which can also be graded.

However, smart locks also open up a new security risk. Smart locks are not only potentially vulnerable to physical attacks, but also to cyber attacks. Some cyber attacks focus on accessing the lock itself, while others focus on the network to which it belongs. Network attacks could breach your other smart devices, and perhaps even put your personal data and confidential information at risk.

It is true that smart technology manufacturers are continually adapting and upgrading security to fight back against cyber attacks. It is also true that there are many steps you can take to minimize the risk of your smart lock being hacked, such as changing your passwords and access codes on a regular basis and investing in a high-security firewall.

Still, at this time, smart locks seem to be more of a convenience factor than a security upgrade. There are plenty of reasons to invest in a smart lock, but these reasons focus on convenience and efficiency, not security. Any lock can ultimately be bypassed by someone who is dead-set on gaining access to your home or office, so any security decision you make should be based on balancing a variety of factors. An experienced locksmith can help you sort through your traditional and smart lock options, and make the decision that is best for you.

Texas Premier Locksmith is known as one of the premier locksmith companies across the state of Texas. If you are ready to form a relationship with a reliable, trustworthy locksmith, please give us a call today at (866) 948-8188.