The objective behind the creation of locks so long ago remains: to control a value on the other side of a door
The security industry as a whole is migrating from the historical mechanical lock to the newest technology of electronic locks

Mechanical locks and keys date back thousands of years and have undergone many changes, but the industry’s transition to electronic locks might be the most important, lasting, and surprisingly affordable security and safety change of all.

The objective behind the creation of locks so long ago remains: to control a value on the other side of a door. But the security industry as a whole is migrating from the perceived “cheaper” and historical mechanical lock to the newest technology of electronic locks.

Mechanical locking systems

Mechanical locks have made a lot of progress in their long history. The invention of keys that couldn’t be copied and secured keyways certainly helped, but the issue of keeping tabs on key holders, replacing bad keys or locks in a timely manner, and ensuring the integrity of employees with master — and grand master — keys remained. Re-keying “everything” in the aftermath of such a breach is an expensive and labour-intensive task. The invention of removable cores helped, but at the end of the day, when a mechanical key or lock is compromised, it requires a physical resolution.

Electronic door access control

In the 1980s, electronic locks began to emerge. The hardware inside the lock remained the same, but instead of having a physical key control the locking and unlocking function of the lock, electronic methods to control the lock took over.

Use of magstripe may have actually
increased expensive man hours as
it still required someone in security
or IT to physically go to each door
for programming and changes

Door access became electronic with the invention and use of magstripe. The magnetic stripe on a credential — usually a card issued instead of a brass key — is read by swiping past a magnetic reading head. While it provided improved security, use of magstripe may have actually increased expensive man hours as it still required someone in security or IT to physically go to each door for programming and changes.

Smart locks

As electronic locks progressed, however, locks got smarter. Electronic lock manufacturers began using the newest technology of Radio-frequency identification to open locks. RFID uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. Data is actually held on the user’s card so it can be easily reprogrammed and updated. Use of RFID to control locks eliminated the man hours associated with physically walking to each door with a handheld unit to make changes.

Age of smarter, wireless and Bluetooth-controlled locks

As technology progressed, electronic locks got even smarter. Taking advantage of the ubiquitous wireless technology, locks today have the capability of being controlled via networks, the internet, and even Bluetooth — a technology present in just about every smartphone.

Wireless locks can communicate — without wires — with a central computer via a gateway which acts as a bridge between the lock and the computer. It should use a secure and encrypted wireless protocol so it doesn't use any internet or public network. The ability to manage locks wirelessly makes it less expensive since wires do not have to be run to each door, and it also makes it more efficient since they can be controlled by the computer network.

 Wireless locks can communicate with a central computer via a gateway which acts as a bridge between the lock and the computer
Taking advantage of the ubiquitous wireless technology, locks today have the capability of being controlled via networks, the internet, and even Bluetooth

Recent advances also mean locks can now be operated by the end user with a smartphone using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. Since most potential lock end users — employees, residents, hotel guests, security — have smartphones it just made sense to incorporate BLE technology into the ability to open doors. The smartphone is the credential — versus a regular key, access card, wristband or fob — which makes it easier on the user and more likely to not be forgotten. Users may misplace or forget their access card, but they usually don’t forget their smartphone. The use of BLE makes it the ideal solution: BLE is low consumption, which is good for battery operated locks.

Security and management

From a security standpoint, the ability to control locks via wireless technology, networks, and the internet means almost instantaneous credential updates. This is convenient in a lockdown situation — such as with an active shooter — where security can control all door locks with the push of a button. Another, perhaps more common scenario would be the ability to shut off access for a recently-terminated employee.

In addition to security, wireless locks managed via the internet and virtual networks provide a wealth of benefits for management. Doors can be electronically controlled according to hours of operation and individual employee schedules which oftentimes vary. Access can be controlled for those who are only allowed in certain areas at certain times and this access can be granted temporarily or for the long term. Updates can be made regularly either by management via the network or directly from the door reader to the end user’s card since information now can be held at the card level.

This ability to program when and where access cards work via electronic locks is an immeasurable benefit. Banks, hospitals, schools, retail stores, and even “mom and pop” establishments can now give access without having to physically be there. Hotels and multi-housing units that deal with numerous different residents and doors can give temporary or permanent access at the push of a button.

Managing locked doors and
controlling access will always
present challenges as it’s the
cornerstone of security and is
often a target

Future of electronic locks

Managing locked doors and controlling access will always present challenges as it’s the cornerstone of security and is often a target. Electronic lock manufacturers in Europe have taken advantage of technology and use of Near Field Communication (NFC) in locks; however, the American market has been slow to produce a Trusted Service Manager (TSM). When this happens, it will open up a great deal of additional features and benefits for users of electronic locks.

Advantages of electronic over mechanical locks

As mentioned, there are a variety of benefits of deploying the use of electronic locks over mechanical. A helpful list to consider when weighing the benefits should include:

  • Programming: The ability to control who can unlock the door, even for certain time periods and varying schedules.

  • Control: The ability to quickly give someone credentials from just the click of a mouse. This might include those that need remote access to work on cell towers or water stations or for those in the energy industry that do field work. Rather than give a temporary worker a key, they can be given the authority to use a credential and their phone can be updated to use as a credential.

  • Future proof and integration: Electronic lock manufacturers need to always have the future in mind and consider what technological innovations are ahead and how the lock can adapt. By having an open platform electronic lock — that can integrate with a variety of other systems — you provide a solid foundation for a total security solution.

 “Too expensive” myth

There is a perception — and presumption — that electronic locks are going to be more expensive than traditional mechanical locks. They aren’t. There are various costs associated with both mechanical and electronic locks. These costs can be upfront or throughout the life cycle of the lock, but in the end the better investment is the electronic lock.

There’s a well-cited misnomer that a mechanical key costs only $4. Broken down over the life cycle of the key, however, the cost is closer to $28. The cost of a blank mechanical key usually falls into one of these categories: cutting of the key; re-cutting a key that for some reason wouldn’t work at the lock; time it takes to get the key to an authorised user; replacing and re-cutting lost keys; keys for new employees; and more. And, of course, factor in that the cost of a lost key that ends up in the wrong hands could be priceless.

Electronic locks tend to have a higher perceived upfront expense but can be less expensive when the installation is part of a new construction. The costs associated with the electronic lock tend to decrease over time since there is no need to replace physical keys or to have maintenance or technical support out to the door to re-key the lock whenever an employee changes or a key is lost or stolen.

 Studies have shown that in the long run, electronic locks are just as affordable as mechanical locks while offering additional layers of security and enriched programming features
The security industry’s migration from mechanical locks to electronic locks is a smart choice and it doesn’t have to be an expensive one

How to choose an electronic lock provider

Investing in locks, whether electronic or mechanical, is a very important decision since the goal is to control, protect, and reduce liability for that value on the other side of the door. Making the decision to go forward with the innovation of what electronic locks have to offer is the best choice; however, make sure you are choosing a provider that has the best support for its products and future-proofs its products by investing in things like research and development.

  • Longevity: There is a lot of technology out there presented by many companies you may not have heard of, so look for long-running history and experience. You need to know that the company will be around to service and support your equipment rather than some new, crowd-source-funded company that is here today, gone tomorrow. Don’t lock yourself into a company that isn’t forward thinking and doesn’t have a strong financial background.

    The company should be
    able to provide the technology
    available today and produce
    the technology of tomorrow



  • On the cutting edge: Look for a company that is on the cutting — and bleeding — edge of technology. For example, updates and changes should be done by software and firmware — without changing the locks. The company should be able to provide the technology available today and produce the technology of tomorrow. A company that shows a commitment to research and development is a company that shows a commitment to the cutting edge. Look for a company that has smart card technology; Bluetooth technology; NFC technology; and everything that is built in. Don’t choose a company that has a one way — their way — proprietary system.

  • Strong industry partnerships: Choose a company that has a solid background with reputable dealer networks that do installations, support the installation, and service the customer. They should know the laws and codes for door hardware installations; for example, the door’s fire rating. This is definitely not a do-it-yourself project.

  • Product variety: Look for a company that offers a variety of styles, lever sets, and escutcheons to meet your architectural demands. The quality and craftsmanship of the hardware should match the innovation and reliability of the electronic lock’s operational features.

  • Keying needs: The need for locks extends way beyond traditional doors. An electronic lock provider should be able to offer a solution for all keying needs: locker locks, server rack locks, cabinet locks, panic devices, and any situation that requires lock protection.

The security industry’s migration from mechanical locks to electronic locks is a smart choice and it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. Studies have shown that in the long run, electronic locks are just as affordable as mechanical locks while offering additional layers of security and enriched programming features. To stay ahead of the trends in locks and door access control, choose electronic locks. Just make sure the electronic lock manufacturer you choose is a reputable company that stands behind its products and invests in unlocking the technology of the future.

Save

Save

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

Michael J. Mahon Senior Vice President of Sales, SALTO Systems

In case you missed it

Managing security during unprecedented times of home working
Managing security during unprecedented times of home working

Companies are following government guidance and getting as many people as possible working from home. Some companies will have resisted home working in the past, but I’m certain that the sceptics will find that people can be productive with the right tools no matter where they are. A temporary solution will become permanent. But getting it right means managing risk. Access is king In a typical office with an on-premise data centre, the IT department has complete control over network access, internal networks, data, and applications. The remote worker, on the other hand, is mobile. He or she can work from anywhere using a VPN. Until just recently this will have been from somewhere like a local coffee shop, possibly using a wireless network to access the company network and essential applications. CV-19 means that huge numbers of people are getting access to the same desktop and files, and collaborative communication toolsBut as we know, CV-19 means that huge numbers of people are getting access to the same desktop and files, applications and collaborative communication tools that they do on a regular basis from the office or on the train. Indeed, the new generation of video conferencing technologies come very close to providing an “almost there” feeling. Hackers lie in wait Hackers are waiting for a wrong move amongst the panic, and they will look for ways to compromise critical servers. Less than a month ago, we emerged from a period of chaos. For months hackers had been exploiting a vulnerability in VPN products from Pulse Secure, Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks, and Citrix. Patches were provided by vendors, and either companies applied the patch or withdrew remote access. As a result, the problem of attacks died back.  But as companies race to get people working from home, they must ensure special care is taken to ensure the patches are done before switching VPNs on. That’s because remote desktop protocol (RDP) has been for the most part of 2019, and continues to be, the most important attack vector for ransomware. Managing a ransomware attack on top of everything else would certainly give you sleepless nights. As companies race to get people working from home, they must ensure special care is taken to ensure the patches are done before switching VPNs on Hackers are waiting for a wrong move amongst the panic, and they will look for ways to compromise critical serversExposing new services makes them also susceptible to denial of service attacks. Such attacks create large volumes of fake traffic to saturate the available capacity of the internet connection. They can also be used to attack the intricacies of the VPN protocol. A flow as little as 1Mbps can perturbate the VPN service and knock it offline. CIOs, therefore, need to acknowledge that introducing or extending home working broadens the attack surface. So now more than ever it’s vital to adapt risk models. You can’t roll out new services with an emphasis on access and usability and not consider security. You simply won’t survive otherwise. Social engineering Aside from securing VPNs, what else should CIO and CTOs be doing to ensure security? The first thing to do is to look at employee behaviour, starting with passwords. It’s highly recommended that strong password hygiene or some form of multi-factor authentication (MFA) is imposed. Best practice would be to get all employees to reset their passwords as they connect remotely and force them to choose a new password that complies with strong password complexity guidelines.  As we know, people have a habit of reusing their passwords for one or more online services – services that might have fallen victim to a breach. Hackers will happily It’s highly recommended that strong password hygiene or some form of multi-factor authentication (MFA) is imposedleverage these breaches because it is such easy and rich pickings. Secondly, the inherent fear of the virus makes for perfect conditions for hackers. Sadly, a lot of phishing campaigns are already luring people in with the promise of important or breaking information on COVID-19. In the UK alone, coronavirus scams cost victims over £800,000 in February 2020. A staggering number that can only go up. That’s why CIOs need to remind everyone in the company of the risks of clickbait and comment spamming - the most popular and obvious bot techniques for infiltrating a network. Notorious hacking attempts And as any security specialist will tell you, some people have no ethics and will exploit the horrendous repercussions of CV-19. In January we saw just how unscrupulous hackers are when they started leveraging public fear of the virus to spread the notorious Emotet malware. Emotet, first detected in 2014, is a banking trojan that primarily spreads through ‘malspam’ and attempts to sneak into computers to steal sensitive and private information. In addition, in early February the Maze ransomware crippled more than 230 workstations of the New Jersey Medical Diagnostics Lab and when they refused to pay, the vicious attackers leaked 9.5GB or research data in an attempt to force negotiations. And in March, an elite hacking group tried to breach the World Health Organization (WHO). It was just one of the many attempts on WHO and healthcare organisations in general since the pandemic broke. We’ll see lots more opportunist attacks like this in the coming months.   More speed less haste In March, an elite hacking group tried to breach the World Health Organization (WHO). It was just one of the many attempts on WHOFinally, we also have bots to contend with. We’ve yet to see reports of fake news content generated by machines, but we know there’s a high probability it will happen. Spambots are already creating pharmaceutical spam campaigns thriving on the buying behaviour of people in times of fear from infection. Using comment spamming – where comments are tactically placed in the comments following an update or news story - the bots take advantage of the popularity of the Google search term ‘Coronavirus’ to increase the visibility and ranking of sites and products in search results. There is clearly much for CIOs to think about, but it is possible to secure a network by applying some well thought through tactics. I believe it comes down to having a ‘more speed, less haste’ approach to rolling out, scaling up and integrating technologies for home working, but above all, it should be mixed with an employee education programme. As in reality, great technology and a coherent security strategy will never work if it is undermined by the poor practices of employees.

How does audio enhance security system performance?
How does audio enhance security system performance?

Video is widely embraced as an essential element of physical security systems. However, surveillance footage is often recorded without sound, even though many cameras are capable of capturing audio as well as video. Beyond the capabilities of cameras, there is a range of other audio products on the market that can improve system performance and/or expand capabilities (e.g., gunshot detection.) We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: How does audio enhance the performance of security and/or video systems? 

How have standards changed the security market?
How have standards changed the security market?

A standard is a document that establishes uniform engineering or technical criteria, methods, processes, and/or practices. Standards surround every aspect of our business. For example, the physical security marketplace is impacted by industry standards, national and international standards, quality standards, building codes and even environmental standards, to name just a few. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: How have standards changed the security market as we know it?