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Understanding How Biometric Locks Work and Where You Can Install Them

January 13, 2019


Until recently, biometric locks were the stuff of science fiction. Today, though, they are an increasingly popular security solution. A biometric lock grants access based on either a retina scan or a fingerprint. Retina scanners are not yet in common use, but fingerprint scanners have become surprisingly prevalent. Here is what you should know.

How Biometric Locks Work

How Biometric Fingerprint Locks Work

Human fingerprints are unique, so a biometric fingerprint lock grants access only to the person with the correct fingerprint. There are various ways of taking fingerprint scans. Optical scanners rely on a photo of the fingerprint, capacitor scanners make an electronic fingerprint mold, and ultrasound scanners actually penetrate the surface layer of skin with high-frequency sound waves.

Optical scanners can be fooled with a photograph of the fingerprint, and capacitor scanners can be tricked with a fingerprint mold, but ultrasound scanners are nearly impossible to defeat. This makes ultrasound scanners both the most expensive and the most popular type.

Multiple Factor Authentication

Multiple factor authentication, as the name suggests, requires users to present more than one type of authentication to gain access. Many biometric locks require two factor authentication, of which one factor is the fingerprint. In most cases, the second factor is a keypad code. This is especially important when working with optical or capacitor scanners, which can be fooled, and when high security is essential.

Pros and Cons of Biometric Locks

The major advantage of a biometric lock is that it uses a keyless “key” that is part of the human body. There is no risk of forgetting your fingerprint when you leave work or having your fingerprint break off in the lock. In addition, biometric locks can typically store multiple fingerprints and are relatively simple to reprogram if you need to add or delete a user.

Besides the fact that some types of scanners can be defeated, the biggest disadvantage is that biometric locks require electrical power. Residential biometric locks typically use batteries, which can run out of juice at an inconvenient time. For this reason, these locks typically have a manual override key.

Another risk is that the lock may not recognize your fingerprint. This is most likely to occur if you have a deep cut on your finger, and it could become permanent if you develop a scar. Use your manual override key and follow the lock manufacturer’s instructions for reprogramming the lock using a different finger.

Where to Install Biometric Fingerprint Locks

Biometric locks can be used in both residential and commercial applications. They are frequently used on exterior doors, as well as interior doors that lead to restricted access areas. Other common uses include safes, computers, and padlocks. Some companies even install biometric locks on time clocks to prevent time fraud.

Things to Consider

Not all biometric locks are the same. Keep these considerations in mind when choosing your lock:

False Rejection Rate: This is how often the lock rejects valid, already memorized fingerprints.

Material: Aluminum locks can be broken or removed altogether. Look for a steel or brass lock that is far more difficult to damage. Also consider the strength of the door. A strong lock does little good if a burglar can simply kick in the door.

Lock Construction: A deadbolt is one of the safest types of locks, although mortises work just as well. Choose a biometric lock with strong, solid mechanical components.

Alternative Operating System: Whether it is an override key or a keypad, make sure there is some way to open the lock if the fingerprint scanner fails.

Biometric locks are fairly complex, with different mechanical parts, materials, and features. It is best to seek guidance from an experienced locksmith to ensure that you get the right biometric lock for your individual needs.

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