Sep. 25, 2018

Locking Systems: A Smart House Needs Smart Locks

Key ring to Scrap Iron?

Key and lock – an ingenious, not to say smart invention. They are an ancient testament to the power of human invention and are still omnipresent today. The zig-zag metal won‘t be assigned to the scrap metal heap any time soon though. But ... there have been some competitive systems to the jingling key ring for some years. They come with a few unbeatable advantages, above all concerning the practicality in daily life – as a card, as a transponder or, more recently, as a function of your mobile phone.
Up until just a few years ago, transponders and co. were found exclusively in large buildings, in a commercial environment. However, with increasing fascination for the idea of a Smart Home and for the opportunities they offer in „Small Offices and Home Offices“ (abbr. SOHO), they can now be found at home and in the office – slowly, but formidably!

Mechanical, Mechatronic, Wireless
The fundamental principle for the new smart locking technology is its departure from mechanics and progress to electronics, mechatronics and wireless technology. The latter enables locks to exchange data with access software – with many advantages that a mechanical lock simply cannot offer. Where, for example, a private apartment is attached to an office or medical practice, electronic locking systems offer some smart features. In particular when door movements must be recorded, they provide the convenient facility of finding out who used a door and at what time – or at least, who wanted to use it. Such systems can be programmed to meet specific needs: not only individual persons can be granted restricted access, but the administrator can also set specific times during which access is allowed, or not. So the cleaning lady might be able to enter just on Tuesday afternoons – and, if required, restricted to certain rooms. Or you grant the postman brief entry so that he can place your packet inside the house – and that conveniently from your desk at work or from your lounger on the beach. And the neighborly flower-watering service can be easily organized this way too without first having to distribute spare keys.

The difference between the unfortunate situation of loss of mechanical keys and the loss of transponders or cards is significant: replacement is no problem and the lost transponder or card is simply deleted (in the app) and thereby made invalid.

The Changeover
Those who want to change over to an electronic system must first of all exchange their lock cylinders for electronic versions. These are battery-driven as a rule – you need to open and close the door a few thousand times before the battery is exhausted. And a locksmith is not required to change it - two left hands are quite sufficient. Add to this some form of key: that is, depending on the system, either a handy little transponder, a card or a mobile phone that works with NFC or Bluetooth. If someone holds one of these keys near the lock, the authorization will be checked, either locally by the lock itself or via a central administration system that it is connected to. It is programmed wirelessly, so that whole things works together with the Smart Home system. The number of products on the market is quite large meanwhile. There are systems from manufacturers such as Abus, Assa Abloy, Dom, Evva, Primion, Salto or SimonsVoss as well as hundreds of security companies to match any budget.
Apart from installing Smart door locks, for which the cylinder must be completely replaced, there is the option to do it on a smaller scale with a simple accessory kit: it is fitted on the inside of the door and turns the key in the lock with a small motor. That works just like the big solution and can be controlled in the same way – by Bluetooth, RFID/NFC, by app, etc. But be careful if you install it yourself: not every lock operates when there is a key in both sides simultaneously. So make sure that you have a lock that can also be operated with a key from outside when it has already been locked from inside.

Biometry for All
Biometric methods are now also used in Smart Home solutions. In practice, it is mostly fingerprint identification that is most commonly found in Smart Home and SOHO applications. And it‘s common knowledge meanwhile that our talented Smart phones can open doors for us. They use either Bluetooth or the NFC wireless standard for this. NFC stands for Near Field Communication, which means that the devices must be very close to one another – which makes eavesdropping by third parties extremely difficult. There are many suppliers, such as Evva or Burg Wächter, who can turn your mobile phone into a key using Bluetooth, RFID or the aforementioned NFC. What all these technologies share with the good old zig-zag key is a form of programming that ensures that only authorized people can come through the door. The clever bit in each case is that the would-be entrant has something unique in their hand that allows them access – such as their fingerprint, for example. The rapid spread of biometrics has only been possible thanks to ever quicker processors and ever more ingenious algorithms. It hardly takes a second these days, and the complex pattern on your index finger has been compared to the previously stored master image. And that leads to unique identification. Incidentally, the latest readers are contactless – not only those with a phobia for bacteria find that more hygienic.

PIN Code and Keyboard
And there‘s still the classic PIN code keyboard at the door, of course. Absolutely certain are only death and tax – and naturally almost any security system can be hacked, even those that are biometrically secured. So it all boils down to how endangered you estimate your apartment/house and you personally to be. Consider that the Chaos Computer Club has already published the fingerprint of Wolfgang Schauble, until very recently the German Minister for Finance. If you want to set up a second safety net, you could combine a fingerprint reader with the classic keypad. Such numeric keypads have the advantage that you don‘t have to carry anything with you. If you don‘t have any difficulty remembering the PIN for your cash card, then using a secret code number to gain entry is a good idea. Something that only you know can grant you access – but be careful if the keyboard can be seen when you‘re using it. The security market has put together a number of complete sets that include the keypad, an electronic lock and the power supply – everything you need, with the exception of a few simple tools and a little handywork, to install the system.

Smarter than a Peephole
We‘ve been ‚smart‘ for a long time actually: simple and reliable door entry systems for apartment buildings and other private houses have been around for ages – modular systems are available from Siedle, but also, for example, from Mobotix, just to mention two out of many manufacturers. If you want to install such a system, you‘ll need to get your toolbox from the cellar to run the necessary cables. But there are an increasing number of wireless systems coming onto the market – and the capability of transmitting sound and vision by app: this lets you see who‘s at the door while you‘re on holiday. Always make sure that the batteries in the mobile components are charged up. And you‘ll need power available at the door so that the door can be opened and the light turned on. If you purchase individual components, make sure that the door opener works on the same voltage as the control unit – some need direct current (DC), others need alternating current (AC). And do speak to your landlord before reaching for the hammer and chisel!
There are interfaces available to some telephone systems. If someone rings at the door, the caller can be answered at one of the extension phones and be let into the building by activating the electric lock on the door. However, the continuing digitalization of telephones makes it increasingly difficult to connect the telephone system and the door entry system to one another. Exactly this digitalization has the effect that, thanks to IP telephony, the central control unit is no longer needed – and thereby the connection to the analog door technology. So companies such as Ritto, for example, have introduced IP-based door intercom systems.

Smart Combinations
Other systems, with analog as well as with digital technology, can be remote controlled: besides the simple electric lock, these could be sliding doors, retracting bollards or barriers, for example. A classic solution here is the integrated video camera – complete systems are available from Abus, Siedle and many other manufacturers. They do require a little higher investment, but are by no means a luxury any more. To be able to see immediately who is at the door without having to ask first is a great improvement in security. Add to that the many systems that can be connected to multiple external doors, such as the garden gate or garage door, that can all be operated from one central point within the house. This is particularly convenient for entrances that are further away or difficult to see. And there is a smarter solution here too: IP video systems often provide additional functionality. For example, the video signal from the entry system can be automatically recorded on a PC – or the light automatically switched on if someone rings at the door. And the same generally goes for Smart Home components too: intelligent systems in the house can be easily connected as required. Many systems can be set up so that, for example, the alarm system goes on and the heating and lights go off when you leave the house – and switch back again when you come home. Such automated connections make the whole system really smart. No matter how little or how much smart technology you apply to secure your own four walls and each and every door – it‘s the well thought-out mixture that makes it worthwhile. And mechanical security is still at the forefront today. It is, so to speak, the first line of defense in the whole security concept and works without needing any power. For this reason, locks and keys usually remain in service. It continues to be considered impractical just to use your mobile phone to open the door: the battery can have run out, Bluetooth might have to be (re)activated first, and finding your phone and switching it on can, at the end of the day, be more trouble than using a transponder or a card.

Attention: Password
Another important tip for all self-installers: always change the preset password of locks immediately from the standard or default value. If you don‘t, your house or office is wide open for all sorts of devious hackers. You also prevent the lock from being misused as part of a botnet. And don‘t make it too easy for the password-crackers: don‘t use your car registration, postcode or similar. Why not use a memory jogger? And by the way, don‘t forget to ensure that the password of your router is correspondingly secure against virtual intruders. Note that it is necessary to have more than one password in use:

  • Secure the administration screen (GUI) via your browser with a password.
  • Choose a 16 or 20-digit number combination for your WPA2 WLAN encryption.
  • Limit access to your WLAN to known devices and use the automatic shutdown function overnight.
  • If you have a NAS device that is connected to your house network, you must create a password for this too. The same goes for a VPN network.
  • Close any open but unused ports (if you‘re not sure about this, consult an IT expert).
  • If it‘s not currently being used, turn off the remote maintenance function. Hackers used this recently to gain access to thousands of routers.

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