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Smart locks have come a long way in the last few years. Once the exclusive domain of tech geeks and expensive hotels, they’re now easier than ever to buy, install, and use.
Like any purchase, you need to do your research before you take the plunge and invest. Unfortunately, if you’re new to the world of smart locks, that’s easier said than done.
If you want to buy a smart lock but you haven’t got a clue where to start, don’t worry. MakeUseOf is here to help! In this piece, I’m going to introduce you the most important things you need to consider before you make your purchase. I’ll even introduce you to a few different brands and models as we progress.
The most important feature of any lock is its security. In the same way that a skilled criminal can easily pick a cheap traditional lock, a well-versed hacker will be able to crack your smart lock and break into your abode in mere seconds if your lock isn’t sufficiently robust.
And, worryingly, a lot of locks aren’t as secure as you’d hope. At DEF CON 2016 in Las Vegas, a presentation from security experts Anthony Rose and Ben Ramsey showed that four models of smart locks from Quicklock, iBlulock, and Plantraco used plain text passwords — a cyber criminal’s dream.
The presentation went on to explain how models from Ceomate, Elecycle, Vians, Okidokey, and Mesh Motion could also be cracked. However, the flaws in their models weren’t as bad: Rose and Ramsey had to use more advanced hacking techniques, including replay attacking, fuzzing, device spoofing, and decompiling APKs.
So, are any smart locks safe from hackers? Thankfully, yes. The researchers found that Bluetooth locks from Noke, Master Lock, and Kwikset were unhackable. Locks from August were also thought to be unhackable, but a different DEF CON attendee managed to crack them later in the conference.
“Ultimately, what [the hacker] showed was that a person could hack their own phone to obtain a one-time use key for their own lock. The ability for a user to download and access their own encrypted key has been removed. Our system has never been compromised and none of our users’ smart locks have been at risk.”
— August Representative
Check out the Kwikset Kevo range. They offer fingerprint unlocking, a usage history, doorbell integration, and alerts for suspicious activity.
Speaking of features, what can you expect your smart lock to offer? What comes as standard?
Here’s a rundown of features you can expect to find on all smart locks. If the product you’re looking at doesn’t have most of these items included, you should probably move on to another, more secure option.
User-based permissions are a key aspect of smart locks. They remove the need for spare keys for visitors or workers and let you keep a tighter control on who has access to your building.
Consider August’s range of locks. They allow you to grant access to certain people at specific times of the day or for a certain time period. For example, perhaps you only want to let your cleaner enter between 10 AM and 12 PM noon on Thursdays or you just want to give your visiting aunt access for the duration of her stay.
Like a traditional lock, smart locks are still vulnerable to brute force. If a committed intruder attacks your lock with a flathead screwdriver, there’s a good chance they’ll eventually gain access. The best smart locks will send you a notification if your entry point is under physical attack.
Yale’s smart lock is one such product. If it detects that someone is trying to break in, it’ll sound an audible alarm and ping you on your smartphone.
If your lock has geofencing, you can say goodbye to fumbling around for your keys in the rain. Instead, your entry point will automatically unlock when it senses you’re nearby.
The Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock 2nd Gen offers the feature. It uses Bluetooth authentication to sense when you’re close to home. It’s more secure than Wi-Fi-based geofencing, which has the potential to inadvertently unlock your home when you’re still a few blocks away from your residence.
More and more locks are now offering voice activation. These locks let you lock and unlock a room with a simple audio command. Most will also require you to recite a PIN code for an added level of security.
If you want a voice-activated lock, consider buying the Schlage Sense. It works with both Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit to bring you the feature.
Integrations with third-party products are important. If you’re running Nest, Alexa, HomeKit, SmartThings, or one of the other leading smart home systems, you want to be able to add your smart lock into the ecosystem.
An increasing number of smart locks now provide the integrations, including the Poly-Control Danalock V2 BT and the August range of products. August works with Alexa, HomeKit, Google Assistant, and more.
Some locks, such as August and Kevo, even offer IFTTT integrations. A quick search of these brands will pull up a broad range of recipes. For example, when someone locks/unlocks your door, the device can send a notification to your TV screen, turn on your WeMo switches, shut down the oven, or dim your lights.
Consider the Drawbacks
Most of the potential pitfalls for smart locks are related to security. Since an insecure lock can literally give a criminal the keys to your house, you need to be wary.
Take the geofencing feature. If someone steals your phone, what’s to stop them turning up at your home and walking straight in? With the amount of data on smartphones these days, it’s easy for a thief to work out where you live if they have access to your mobile operating system.
Integration with services like Amazon Alexa or smart home hubs also raises security questions. Could someone hack a different device in your house (like a baby monitor), then use that access to virtually hack your lock or even voice-activate your lock from within? It would be beyond the skill set of an average user, but a skilled cyber-criminal could do it easily, especially given how insecure lots of default passwords are on many smart home devices.
Lastly, you need to consider how well the manufacturer has designed the locks from a physical standpoint. I’ve already touched on brute force attacks, but make sure you do your research about the strength of the lock you are about to buy. Cheaper models are unlikely to be as robust as a top-end device.
There are also some practical drawbacks. A malfunctioning voice activation system could leave you locked out of (or, arguably worse, in) a certain room. Similarly, if your smart lock is battery-powered, what happens when the batteries run flat but you don’t have the physical key on your person?
Are You Going to Buy a Smart Lock?
I hope this article has made it clear that there are both pros and cons to buying a smart lock. They bring added convenience and, in some cases, added security. But there are also some significant drawbacks you need to consider before you part with your cash.
Are you thinking about buying a smart lock? How have you weighed up the pros and cons in your own mind? I’d love it if you shared your thoughts with your fellow readers.
You can leave all your opinions and input in the comments below.