Doors provide ways into your house or office, but it’s the security locks that determine how smooth or tough those ways can be! However, if there is no “teamwork” between your doors and locks, one will easily give way without caring about the other!
It’s this simple: a strong Door requires a strong lock, and a strong lock deserves a strong door.
Ever wondered how secure your security locks are? Or so long as it can lock and unlock, you are home and dry? Is that so?
Any idea of techniques a thief can use to render your door lock useless and gain access to your home, office or store?
Have you heard people complaining that their houses or offices have been broken into? You must feel pretty insecure especially if your next door neighbour is a victim. It could be you next. It happens.
These are real situations. Now, let’s first scan through break-in cases before we get into more exciting tips and facts about security locks.
Since this is a security matter, you can’t just leave yet. Let’s investigate the two common break-in cases before uncovering other mysteries.
1. Security Lock- “Software” Break-in!
Imagine you are out at work. You locked your door before leaving for work. You have a strong door and no thief can break into your house without any alarm being raised by neighbours. Well, this is your assumption! After all, you are in a safe residential place, so you think.
You come back from work, opened your door, then realize that you’ve been robbed clean! The door has not been broken into. The lock is not tampered with. In fact, you’ve found the door locked! You opened it yourself. You have all the keys with you including spare keys. What the hell happened?
Yes, reality dawns on you: Someone opened your door lock and gained access. You’re a victim of “software” break-in! No struggle. No Damages. Smooth and silent access.
This type of break-in can happen during the day, or at night without your knowledge, and without even your neighbours suspecting anything.
Why have they picked on your door lock?
Chances are, your door lock is insecure, keys can be easily duplicated, and the thief probably has a duplicate key or tools to pick the lock! It has been a subject of study, and today was the implementation day.
In many instances, someone who has been to your residence may be behind the whole break-in…or colluded with a thief. You can’t just trust some people, can you?
Specialist in this type of break-in invests in spying skills. They are always very much afraid and don’t want to raise any alarm. Their timing is often very precise. Sometimes the invaders will act with supper confidence. Your neighbours can be fooled into believing that they are members of your family!
Sometimes they can even pretend to be talking to you on phone…just to disarm neighbours who may be suspicious.
So then, someone got hold of your spare key, duplicated a copy or simply picked your lock. How? Because you have a cheap basic or standard lock with low-security level.
Where are such break-ins common?
- In apartment buildings with basic locks installed, and no other security measures such as alarms or CCTV system in place.
- In homes or offices where there are no guards and installed locks are basic or of medium security.
- Sometimes even in highly guarded places with high security locks already installed. Why not if they already have your key copy?
If you decide to rent an apartment or an office with basic security locks installed, plan on the following where applicable:
- Replacing the locks with compatible but more secure types
- Using a night janitor lock to enhance the basic lock’s security
- Installing an additional and more secure lock to supplement the existing lock.
- Install a door intercom with an access lock if applicable
- Install a door alarm system
- Ensuring that you take good care of your keys including the spare key
2. Security Lock-“Hardware” Break-in!
This time, on arrival at your house, you immediately notice that either your door or lock has been messed up with. Your heart-beat goes to full-throttle. You expect the worst.
Your lock is either badly buttered or has a bad fracture! I mean it’s been cut. If your lock is spared, it’s your door that gave in with your lock left in shock!
The thief’s intent was to use force and hand tools to break-in. Maybe a hand hacksaw, light hammer, bolt cutter or a crow-bar did the work. Real hardware tools did some work!
This happens when a thief realizes that the use of force will work without an alarm being raised. Force is used clinically! Your lock cannot be normally opened. They have no spare keys. Probably it’s a basic lock or standard lock with softer alloy metal that can be easily deformed .
For a high security lock with hardened steel components, it will not be a walk in the park. If a lock is exposed, and in an unsecure enivroment, it is prone to tampering risks.
It’s also possible your installer did a shoddy installation job making both your door and lock vulnerable to forced entry.
Other possibilities: Your padlock’s body or shackle is not well protected hence exposed to tampering. Maybe your door is simply to weak to resist But it’s only after assessing the damage that an expert can tell where the main problem was. It’s called a post-damage assessment!
This type of break-in can happen at any time based on a thief’s evaluations, and audacity. It’s common in apartments, isolated residential or commercial buildings, etc. The most commonly used tool is a small crow-bar that such thieves conceal in small bags or in their jackets.
Now, having severally referred to some locks as not secure or of low security, you must now be wondering: Which locks are these? And how can I tell a lock is secure, etc?
Good questions. This is next!
Security Locks-What Security Levels are Available?
For the sake of this article, we shall consider mechanical locks with three levels of security: Basic Security locks (low-level security locks), Standard Security Locks (Medium level Security locks), and High Security Locks (Premium or top-level Security locks). Examples of these locks will be based on the most common types in the market which are mortise locks and padlocks. Lock types are legion!
1. Low-level/Basic Security Locks
To help you understand and appreciate what a basic door lock is, please be the main character in this short narration:
You have invested heavily in a rental house. You took a bank loan which you are struggling to pay through these tough economic times. The house is done, and soon ready for occupation. At last, you’ll start getting returns! But one thing is missing. Internal door locks are yet to be installed.
You don’t know the type of items your tenants will be keeping. It’s actually none of your business. All you need is an affordable but reliable lock for all the doors. And to get a better deal, you can purchase them in bulk from a nearby hardware store.
So, what informs your decision is really not the potential security threats, but affordability, right? Of course, you are aware that the locks will provide some level of security.
Any time you focus only on affordability when purchasing a lock, chances are: You’ll buy a low-security lock or if lucky, a standard security lock that will still serve you well.
Now, let’s get to know just a few examples of these basic locks, and their key features.
a. 2 or 3 Lever Mortise Locks/ Dead Locks
A mortise lock simply means a lock that has a latching part. This means it also has a handle. The most common mortise locks come with a set of 3 basic long keys. Other advanced types are operated by cylinders. We shall explain what cylinders are later.
A deadlock has no latching part and hence has no handle, only the keying point. 2-3 lever mortice locks are the most common locks in many homes and some offices. They are ideal for internal installations. Sadly, some install them on their main external doors where risks are much higher.
The 2 or 3 levers mortise locks are hard to manipulate and open with other objects or tools. However, they do not provide the high level of security desired for an external door.
- Keys can be easily duplicated. In fact, for some locks, you can easily purchase pre-cut keys! Key’s have specific numbers on them. Using these numbers, you can easily purchase either a blank key for you to cut or a pre-cut one.
- The locking bolt is made of a softer alloy or brass material. Some come with locking bolts with anti-drill steel pins. When the installation is not properly done or if the door is weak, the lock can be easily forced open.
- You cannot change lock combinations by retaining the lock and configuring a new key when original key is lost. If you suspect that your key is in the wrong hands, you are forced to change the whole lock.
- They are often installed in lesser secure doors, mostly wooden doors.
These locks are recommended for:
Indoors installations and where security risks are pretty low
b. Basic Padlocks
Sometimes instead of mortise locks that are slotted on a cut door section, you may choose to go for basic padlocks. This is recommended where your locking provision is external and has locking hooks.
While some steel doors may have mortise locks installed, most steel doors have locking hooks for external locking. Some doors may have special brackets that allow you to lock your door internally from outside. Internal locking enhances security as the lock is not easily accessible from outside.
Always remember: The thicker the locking hooks, and the bigger your padlock is, the better. Smaller locks or thin hooks are easier to tamper with by cutting.
Basic Padlock features:
- Most come with basic 5 pin cylinders. Pins are inner lock components that control the keying system. The more the number of pins the more difficult it is to pick a lock. Picking a lock simply refers to irregular opening using other tools like wires, hooks or other manipulation devices.
- Keys are often cut on sides, and can only be inserted on one side (not reversible)
- Compatible key blanks are often sold in many hardware stores. So, getting a duplicate copy is not a problem. In fact, keys can as well be cut conventionally, no need of a highly specialized key-cutting machine.
- Their serviceability levels are limited. It’s difficult to replace parts or change combinations.
- Their body parts are often made of softer metal allows mostly brass or with some plating. They cannot, therefore, resist very intense tampering like those with steel casings.
- Qualities and sizes vary depending on brands. The bigger the size, the more resistant to physical tampering.
Common Brands: Tri-Circle, Union, Yale, Cisa, Viro, Oriv, etc
- Easy to find or replace
- Very affordable
- Available in different sizes
- Reliable where security is not a major concern
- Easy to duplicate keys
- Keys can be irregularly duplicated
- Cannot resist intense tampering due to their soft body. Can be forced open using a crow-bar. Some have shackles that can be easily cut using a hacksaw (not highly hardened as in some high security padlocks)
- Compared to high security locks some can be irregularly opened/picked
- Serviceability is limited
- Not recommended for high-risk areas or external installations.
- Shackles are exposed hence can be easily cut.
Can You Upgrade a Basic Mortise Lock?
- Yes! There are mortise locks with higher levers like 5-lever mortise locks. They are more secure than 2 or 3 lever locks.
- There are also other mortise locks and deadlocks with tougher steel casings and more secure keys.
- Further, there are mortise locks which are operated by high security cylinders with high security keys instead of basic keys. You need to get the right size that fits on the same slot your basic slot was installed. They come in different sizes with different handle types to fit your style and taste.
- Some mortise locks have steel casing making them more resistant to forced entry. For the correct upgrade, contact a specialized installer for compatible and suitable locks.
- In case your current door’s mortise lock already has a cylinder but with a basic keying system, you can simply remove and replace its cylinder with a high security one without having to change your door lock. You will, however, need to get the right cylinder size that is flashing with your lock handles.
2. Mid-Level/Standard security Locks.
These are locks that are more superior to basic locks and provide medium security.
They are made of high-quality materials hence they cannot fail easily, and provide reasonable resistance to forced entry compared to basic locks. Some have outer steel casings to offer adequate protection.
All brands of basic locks have standard security models to choose from. Based on materials used, suppliers will advise you on specifications. This is necessary since outwardly, they lock the same in terms of design and size.
For instance, just like you can get Union or Yale basic mortise lock of lever 2 and 3, you can as well get level 5 or a stronger version of a 2 or 3 mortise lock. If the door locks are driven by cylinders, you can as well get cylinders of medium security level.
Just like basic locks, standard locks come in different designs as padlocks, rim locks, deadlocks, cylinder locks, etc.
They are often sold as individually keyed. For the key-alike and master-keying system, a special order is required.
Application: Recommended where security risks are medium.
Common Brands: Union, Yale, Cisa, Viro, Oriv, etc
3. High Security Locks.
- These locks provide the highest level of lock security. Features and superiority vary based on different manufacturers. They are designed to resist physical tampering like lock picking, cutting and drilling.
- For padlocks, their shackles are made of highly hardened steel, boron alloy or other highly tough metal alloys that resist cutting as well as rusting.
- Their keying systems are also advanced and keys blanks are very restricted. That is, you can only get key-copies form authorized locksmiths with compatible key blanks.
- Locks bodies are of harder materials like steel alloys. Breaking these locks will, therefore, require more time and effort.
- Have more pins hence more secure in terms of their keying systems
- Some have reversible keys
- Anti-drilling properties on some locks
- For some padlocks, they come with shackle protectors to deter cutting attempts
- Most are serviceable and you can change combinations for new keys in case you misplace a key.
- Available in different sizes. And the bigger, the more secure.
Common Brands: Yardeni (Israel), Mul-t-Lock (Israel), CISA (Italy), Abus (Germany), and others.
- Offers the highest level of security hence peace of mind
- Cannot be forced open easily due to their physical toughness
- Keys cannot be easily picked
- Keys cannot be duplicated by conventional means
- Durable and reliable
- Can be keyed individually, keyed differently or master-keyed. This is because authorized dealers often have all required capacity to configure the locks as you may desire. This, however, varies from brand to brand.
- They cost more than basic and standard locks
- Servicing and maintenance require specialized locksmiths
- If keys are not properly kept, they can still be duplicated irregularly by some locksmiths if they have compatible key blanks.
Different manufacturers have different lock models with different security levels for different applications. For instance, ABus or CISA have a diverse range of locks ranging from standard security locks to the most advanced locking solutions. The right lock will, therefore, be determined by your security situation.
To select the most suitable high security lock, it is important that you contact lock’s specialist.
How To Upgrade Your Security Padlocks
You can always upgrade from basic security padlocks to standard locks or to high-security locks. This is determined by your current security challenges or risks.
During upgrades, you can consider:
- Padlocks of larger sizes to deter cutting
- Padlocks with high security keys (keys that cannot be easily duplicated)
- Padlocks with hardened shackles or steel body to deter physical tampering
- Padlocks with shackle protectors to deter cutting of shackles
- Armoured locks or padlocks with straight shackles and high security keys
- Padlocks with hasps (complete padlock protection)
Since there is a wide range of upgrade possibilities, it is recommended you contact a specialist to advise you on the most suitable lock. Each door may be unique and with unique lock requirements.
The right lock will always be determined by your door type, installation options, the existing level of risks, and ultimately, your budget.
If you have a basic door, you do not have to invest in a very high security lock. You should first focus on ensuring that your door is secure.
How To Decide on The Right Security Lock
Apart from mortise locks and padlocks, there is a wide range of locks in the market. You as a user, may not know all the lock types to decide on a suitable lock type. More often, you’ll be persuaded only by what you see, right?
For instance, lock types include: 2-3 lever mortice locks, euro-profile short/long mortise locks, cylindrical padlocks, rectangular padlocks, marine padlocks, brass padlocks, Shackle-removable/shackle-retaining padlocks, shutter locks, chain locks, deadbolt locks, strike locks, rim locks, double and half-cylinder locks, electric rim locks, armoured locks, etc. And in each category, there are other options based on size, materials used, and security level!
The market is full of substandard locks and crooks. Therefore, for you to get the most suitable and authentic high security lock, you need to consult a locks specialist. If you purchase a lock from any street seller or hawker, they will not provide you with critical details to inform your decision. You will be making your own judgements. If it’s a wrong one, it will cost you in the long run.
A reliable locks expert will study your door, possible risks, and recommend a suitable lock type and size. The right lock should be compatible with your door’s structure. You don’t need to spend a lot on modifying your door to fit a lock.
Finally, you’ll make the final decision on which lock to purchase when you are well informed. Always be willing to learn. With knowledge, you’ll learn to stay secure!
Myths About Security Lock You Need To Know!
1. Common Thieves Using “Master Keys” to open locks
Have you heard someone say:
“The thieves never damaged the door lock. They used a master-key to open the lock”
If yes, then more often than not, the speaker has no idea of what a Master Key is all about.
Master-key system is a very scientific /computerised programming of locks. Only a General Master Key can open all locks under it. Locks that it has been specifically programmed to open.
In complex locking systems with several locks under a master and sub-master systems, a General Master Keys should always be kept safely. Losing a General Master Key is a security disaster.
Now, locks with low-security features can be opened using modified tools or keys. In other words, they are easy to be picked by “an expert locksmith thief”. When a thief succeeds in picking or opening such locks, the term “Master Key” is often misused. Now you know. 🙂
Remember: Not all locks sold are programmed under a Master System unless it is a special request from a client, and only where several locks are involved.
2. High Security Keys “Cannot Be Duplicated”
This is another misconception. There is no mechanical lock whose key cannot be duplicated! As long as the lock brand has authorized dealers, they have key blanks which they can use to duplicate your key. Key duplication is a service that authorized locksmiths need to provide to you as a client.
If you purchased the lock from a manufacturer, chances are that they have the lock’s serial number. If the number is presented to them, and they confirm you bought from them, they can assist you to get a key copy. It all depends on the lock’s manufacturer and after-sale support they provide.
So next time a lock provider tells you the keys cannot be duplicated, ask them: “How about if I need more keys for other users?” It’s however important to note that lock providers may not have the capacity to duplicate keys for all the locks they deal in.
Sometimes hardware shops also stock different key blanks including universal key blanks. Universal key blanks are not from a specific lock manufacturer, but some can be used to duplicate keys for branded locks. Did you know this?
Reputable locks manufacturers control how their key blanks are being distributed. That is, through their official distributors. Some locksmiths who are not official distributors but have acquired key blanks irregularly can irregularly cut/duplicate high security keys. It’s therefore important that you only deal with suppliers you can trust. Locks may be the same. Suppliers are not! Always remember this.
High security keys are only secure because they are not easy to duplicate conventionally, have inbuilt security features. Their key blanks are also not common and only specialized and authorized dealers can provide.
Again, dealing with an honest supplier is key. They will confirm if you purchased the lock from them before duplicating your key. Some dealers will ask for a signed authorization letter before they duplicate your key. This is to ensure that they do not compromise their client’s security through irregular key-cutting. client’s security welfare is key.
Again, be warned! There are unscrupulous locksmiths out there ready to duplicate all keys without caring of risks involved.
3. High Security locks are “tamper-proof”
No locking system is tamper-proof. There are simply different levels of security locks. The longer one can take to tamper with a lock to gain access, the more secure is the lock. When a high security lock is installed in an unsecured environment, a thief may take his time and use all forms of tools to force it open or simply damage it. They are not tamper-proof!
Therefore, for a high security lock to be secure, you need to ensure that:
- You keep your keys safely
- If you misplace a key, immediately contact your supplier to change your lock’s combination and provide you with new sets of keys. After combination change, older keys will not open your lock.
- If the keys come with key cutting codes, keep these in the safest place you can think of. You know why? To duplicate your key, one only needs to get these numbers and take to a dubious key-cutter or locksmith conversant with your lock brand.
- Ensure that your supplier has key-cutting policies in place with regard to high security keys’ duplication. Deal only with suppliers you can trust. Remember this!
- Use and handle locks and keys properly to avoid damages caused by incorrect use or storage.
- Should you detect any irregularity in your lock’s operation during locking or opening, consult your supplier immediately.
- Use WD40 to clean your padlocks or cylinders. Do not use other oils as these will damage your locks and attract dust.
- Share your keys with only those you can trust. If a company, develop a clear key issuance policy so that all key users are accountable.
Not any security lock is a good security lock for you. There is a wide range of security locks in the market designed for different applications. Each and every lock design has its suitable application. Selection of correct lock will be determined by risks involved, your door’s structure, and your budget.
Before you decide on getting a security lock, ensure that your door or windows are secured. Take time and consult a reliable locks supplier. Share your requirements, and if possible allow them to send their skilled installers to assess your needs. They should then furnish you with their recommendations.
You can as well share with them photos of your current locking systems. This will enable them to evaluate your needs and recommend suitable options for you to consider. If it’s a padlock, details like shackle thickness are necessary. You may need to take measurements since photo images will not reveal this 🙂
Do not focus only on cost when shopping for a security lock. Focus on the possible risks that you want your lock to mitigate.
Before lock installation, always ensure that installers are qualified, and your lock supplier is reliable. Ask as many questions as you can regarding the lock you are purchasing. These may be with regard to duplication of keys, maintenance, warranty, recommended application, and after sale support.
As a house or office owner, it will be your responsibility to safeguard both your lock and keys. Proper handling is critical. In case of any problem with your lock, always contact your supplier. Do not try to fix a lock on your own.
Lastly, based on your security needs, consider a suitable lock upgrade to ensure that you cope with potential threats. Be proactive. Be safe!
It is my hope that you have learned something from this article. We welcome your questions, comments or other inputs you may have and would wish to share.
If you need to upgrade your current locks or in need of a new locking solution, always contact a Locks Expert