Smart Locks: How Secure Are They Really?

The holiday period is fast approaching in many parts of the world. People are packing their bags, and booking their travel to see far-flung family members. Before leaving, they prepare the house for a period of emptiness.  They have their smart-lights set to turn on at random intervals. Their smart blinds are programmed to go down at dusk and rise again in the morning. All this to make it look as though someone is home.  The smart cat-food dispenser is perfectly timed to keep your kitty contented, even without the owner around. Everything is ready. 

As they walk out, they set the smart-lock on their front door to closed and off they go. They are calm in the knowledge that their home is safe from burglars.  Or is it?  Well, the short answer is: it depends. Let’s delve into the world of smart locks to find out why it does depend. What can you, as a consumer, do to make your lock as impregnable as possible?

The Smart Lock Primer

There are Four Main Types of Smart Locks out there to Choose From.

Smartphone controlled locks work using Bluetooth signals sent by your phone when you come near the lock.

Biometric locks that work with specific fingerprints or by facial recognition.

Proximity locks that open automatically if you have a fob in your pocket or bag. This is somewhat efficient since you don’t have to reach for your key any longer.

Smart Locks Keep Your Home Safe
Smart Locks Keep Your House Safe, Or Do They?

Surveillance locks that can be programmed with different access codes for different people. The system takes photos of those who open your door.

All the above types of locks have practical considerations to think about when you are making a buying choice.  It very much depends on what kind of situation you live in.  For example, if not everyone who lives in your home owns a smart-phone (yes, it can be possible!), then a smartphone-controlled lock is definitely not the one for you. If your home has high traffic, e.g., dog-walkers, delivery people, cleaners, and neighbors who need to get into your house for various reasons, a surveillance smart lock with different personal codes can be a huge asset to have. However, before committing to installing a smart-lock you need to be aware of the pitfalls you may run into.

Why Smart-Locks Are Not That Secured As You Think

A study by Parks Associates in the USA last year revealed that the popularity of smart locks is steadily rising. 1 in 4 Americans planning to buy one in the coming year. When smart locks first came out on the market a few years ago, they really were more of a gadget than a trusted security device. Over time, reputable lock companies have fixed security issues. They have also added patches to weak spots in their systems. As a result, the smart locks can often be just as safe, or more secure than a traditional key lock. However, it’s still not a perfect guarantee that smart locks are foolproof.

Smart Locks Keep Your House Safe, Or Do They?
Smart Locks Keep Your House Safe, Or Do They?

One pitfall is that if the electricity goes out, you can be locked out of your own home. This is crucial if you have forgotten to check the smart lock batteries recently. Companies are working on battery length to try to circumvent this issue from happening. In the end, the user is responsible for controlling their lock to ensure that they are not going to stand shivering in the cold at their front door.

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Just like any other smart device that is connected to the Internet, smart-locks are prey to malicious hackers.  If your smart lights get hacked, there is not that much damage that can be done. Maybe the hacker can annoy you from a distance by turning off your light when you are reading.  However, if a hacker can break into the code of a smart-lock and open your door, things can get a little more serious.

A Couple Of Real-Life Examples To Scare You Just A Little

At the Blackhat Europe 2020 conference that took place last week, scientists presented their research into using lasers to hack systems of smart assistants and all smart home products, including smart locks.  They found that they were able to mimic sound-waves by changing the brightness of lasers aimed at the devices. Using this technique, they were able to unlock house and garage doors, open doors of certain cars with smart-locks, and buy products from Internet sites using smart assistants. It is quite probable that you would notice someone hanging around and aiming a laser at your house. However, the potential threat is there for industrious criminals who can finesse this technology.

Tapplock, a company that supplies smart-locks that work with biometric fingerprint recognition, has been brought up on charges by the Federal Trade Commission in the USA. It has spread false advertising that its locks are unbreakable.  Already, back in 2018, it was discovered that these locks could be opened in a short space of time by prising the back panel off them. Recently, researchers found out that anyone can generate private user keys to work any of the Tapplock locks.

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Are You Still Convinced You Want A Smart-Lock? Do Your Research Well.

If you are convinced that a smart lock is for you, there are a few things to look out for.  The safest smart-locks all have three features in common.  The first is that the lock has Rijndael encryption (Advanced Encryption Standard).  Reputable brands of smart locks use the lowest level of AES encryption. Government agencies and banks use the same encryption protocols to keep sensitive data as safe as possible.  Someone trying to hack into your smart lock system with this encryption would need more years than they have in their lifespan to break the code.

Smart Locks Might Not Be Impregnable As You Think!
Smart Locks Might Not Be Impregnable As You Think!

The second important feature is the ability to set the password you use to access the settings to more than 16 characters. This makes it almost impossible to crack. A long password adds yet another level of security to the smart lock and makes those hackers sweat even more. The third factor that is necessary for keeping you and your home as secure as possible is for the lock system to require two-factor access to its system.

The Ultimate Essence Among All…

In the end, any lock can be effective depending on the kind of door it’s put on. If your door is made of flimsy wood, glass, or has a simple latch opening, it does not matter what lock you install. An opportunistic burglar with a crowbar will ignore the lock and break the door. Installing simple motion-sensitive lights or an alarm on the door is a much better deterrent in this case than any lock, smart or otherwise. Whether you choose to go with a smart lock or a normal key operated lock depends a lot on your living habits. Ultimately, it also depends on your trust level of the company you buy the lock from.

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Oh, and a last piece of advice. Keep that crowbar someplace handy. If the electricity or the Internet goes out, or if your smartphone is lost or stolen, you may just need it to get in an old-fashioned way!

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