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Are You Ready for Smart Locks

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The earliest known locking mechanism was discovered by archaeologists in Iraq, dating from around 4000 B.C. So we are all very familiar with traditional locks and keys, using them every day around our homes, our vehicles and our workplaces. But in recent years, advances in communications technologies have enabled the development of what are called ‘smart locks’, introducing a whole new chapter world of lock technology. In this post we look at what smart locks are, key aspects of the types that exist and whether they are as safe as their traditional counterparts.

Before we look at smart locks it’s worth noting how, according to market research from Statista, the worldwide smart lock market is expected to reach $4.4bn (£3.2bn) by 2027 which is a 10 times increase from $420m in 2016. So it’s clear there are high expectations for the adoption of this new technology.

What Are Smart Locks

Smart locks are electromechanical locking devices that use various forms of communication technology (e.g. Wi-Fi or bluetooth) to interact with authorised devices and respond to locking and unlocking commands.

Smart lock systems might typically use an app on a smartphone or a dedicated fob which can be automatically detected, when within range, unlocking your door for you without the need to find your key. Smart locks generally provide additional ‘smart’ functionality in a `smart home` context. For example, they can interact with your heating system, automatically turning it down when you are not at home. Or the system can send you alert messages when the lock is used and allow you to check that you locked your front door from wherever you are. Systems that integrate with home automation systems such as Google Home, Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa, have been on the market for some time.

smart lock in use
Smart Lock in Use

Electronic door locks and keyless entry systems are not a new technology. Many automobiles, for example, use what are called remote keyless systems (RKS). Pressing a button on the keyfob will generally unlock the vehicle and may include both a remote keyless entry system (RKE) along with a remote keyless ignition system (RKI) to start the engine. And keyless door entry systems utilising swipe cards have been used in hotels and other locations for many years.

Types of Smart Locks

There are a variety of smart lock types, some of which are capable of retrofitting to existing door locks and some that require complete lock replacement. But an important aspect of their operation is the need to communicate between the lock and the device used to control it.

Wi-fi Smart Locks

Most of us are familiar with the Wi-fi technology we use in our homes to access the internet and watch Netflix on our televisions. Wi-fi connectivity is used by various smart lock systems, providing a host of additional functionality. For example, your smart lock might be integrated with a door entry camera system, allowing you to determine who is calling and then unlock the door remotely using a device (typically a smartphone) that’s internet connected.

Like all electronic door entry systems, they need a power source. Most Wi-Fi smart locks are battery powered and for the lock control to be active, a Wi-fi connection is needed. This requirement drains the batteries, prompting the development of power-saving smart lock systems that make more efficient use of Wi-Fi connectivity.

Bluetooth Smart Locks

Bluetooth communications is short range so smart lock systems using this technology require proximity, generally within earshot of the door. But a big advantage of Bluetooth is that it requires far less power than Wi-Fi, so the smart lock batteries will last a lot longer. Smart lock systems that integrate both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity are available.

Z-Wave Smart Locks

Z-wave is a wireless communications protocol that’s primarily used to handle home automation, which includes smart lock systems. The key attributes of Z-wave are that it uses low energy radio waves for communication which requires far lest power than Wi-Fi. Also, the range is much greater than Bluetooth.

It’s worth noting that smart home communications protocols, enabling us to control and monitor various devices within our homes and workplaces, are in continuous development so new technologies are just around the corner.

ring video doorbell
Ring Video Doorbell

 

Are Smart Locks Safe?

The bottom line with any form of lock technology is how secure they are. While we are all familiar with traditional, mechanical locks which can be assessed based on recognised test standards (e.g. Sold Secure and CEN), manufacturers test results, anecdotal feedback and personal examination, smart locks present a host of additional security concerns.

Traditionally, one of the primary methods used to assess locks is what’s often called the ‘heft’ test. This involves attacking the lock using a variety of tools and techniques to determine how tough and robust it is. While this form of aggressive testing is a great way to determine mechanical resilience, it doesn’t address additional aspects of potential vulnerability that smart technologies introduce.

Smartphone Security

Since many smart lock systems require the use of a smartphone, connected via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to activate and control the lock, this means its essential for users to keep their smartphones secured and locked. Most systems have a backup key and entry code facility that will allow you to gain entry when you don’t have your phone with you.

Another area of concern regarding smart locks that connect to mobile smartphones is the firmware used. In 2017 a firmware update resulted in a malfunction affecting 200 smart lock users, preventing them from controlling their locks. This is an example of the types of vulnerabilities that can exist in these systems and technologies.

Hacking Potential

Internet connected devices present opportunities for hackers. At the 2016 DEF CON hacker convention smart locks were in the spotlight and when 16 Bluetooth smart locks were tested, 75% were found to have vulnerabilities that made them easy to hack. It should also be noted that technologies, such as Bluetooth, have their own vulnerabilities which can be exploited by those who know how.

Pros and Cons of Smart Locks

There are clearly huge differences between traditional, mechanical lock and key systems and smart locks which mean that, when thinking about smart locks, we need to consider many additional aspects of security. But smart lock technology is clearly here to stay, so here are some of the primary pros and cons to consider.

Smart Lock Pros

  1. No more keys. In theory, you will no longer need to carry around any mechanical keys as they are replaced by your smart phone and smart lock app which is much more convenient.
  2. Automated lock security. Many smart lock systems detect the proximity of your device, automatically locking when you are out of range. This is called geo-fencing and clearly provides a security advantage. Smart locks generally offer additional security features such as scheduled periods during which the lock is active - so you can set your doors to lock automatically before you go to bed.
  3. Access control and monitoring. This is one of the key features provided by smart phone systems. If you have ever left a key outdoors, perhaps hidden under a plant pot, to allow your children to get in while you are not at home, this capability is clearly a security enhancement. Nobody has a key except you - and systems often allow you to monitor who is calling at your door and then unlock it remotely to provide access.
  4. Smart home integration. As noted, smart lock systems are capable of integration into home automation systems enabling efficient control of heating systems, automatic control of lighting and access to door camera security systems.
  5. Property value. Smart homes are becoming increasingly attractive on the property market.

Smart Lock Cons

  1. Hacking vulnerability. As noted, internet connected devices present opportunities for hackers. But it should be noted that even if a hacker has taken control of a lock they need to know the address in order to exploit their hack.
  2. Need for batteries. Batteries in smart lock systems will eventually go flat, especially if Wi-Fi connected. It’s essential that early warnings that batteries are running down are immediately heeded.
  3. Internet connectivity. Much of a smart lock’s functionality is dependent on reliable internet access. If Wi-Fi connectivity is lost or unreliable then smart lock functionality is compromised.
  4. Phone security. Since many smart lock systems rely on apps running on smart phones its essential that they are always secure and never fall into the wrong hands.
  5. Expense. Smart lock systems cost a lot more than traditional locks. Even the highest quality, robust, rigorously tested traditional door lock is cheaper than a basic smart lock system.

Conclusion

Smart lock systems are considered by many to be the future. They can provide convenience and peace of mind, raising alerts when someone is calling, enabling remote access control and automating security. But the technologies involved have vulnerabilities which simply don’t exist in traditional, mechanical lock and key systems.

If you need help with any aspects of safety and security please give us a call on 01273 475500. We are always happy to help.

This message was added on Thursday 21st January 2021

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