Wireless locks: safe or sketchy?

Sections: CES 2014, Features, Green Home Tech, Internet of Things, Networking, Remote control, Security, Smart Home

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Kwikset Venetian Bronze 914  Vignette 1 with Arlington

Kwikset SmartCode 914 Venetian Bronze Wireless Lock has SmartKey re-key technology that allows homeowners to re-key their locks in seconds without having to remove the lock from the door. BumpGuard technology protects homeowners from lock bumping.

Wireless locks are a popular thing right now, and for good reason. Imagine being stuck in traffic and your dinner guests arrive early…just send them an e-key so they can let themselves in (and hopefully turn on the oven). Want your housekeeper to clean while you are on vacation? No problem, you can lock and unlock doors remotely from anywhere you have Internet access, then come home to a nice clean house. Want to lock out your psycho soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend before she sets the place on fire? No problem. In fact, locksmiths better start learning another trade as rekeying locks is no longer necessary. Likewise, you may never have to deal with a lost key again. While the benefits of remote access via your smartphone are obvious, with everything from your Snapchat to your Target credit card getting hacked these days, homeowners may be a little sketched out about putting a wireless digital lock on their front door. To assuage your fears, we did some asking around about common homeowner fears, most of which are  unwarranted. Here’s what we discovered:

Yale Real Living_US15_Key FreeTouchscreen Deadbolt_MarinaLever

Yale Real Living YRD240 Key Free Touchscreen Deadbolt is totally keyless, eliminating the cylinder altogether for a cleaner look.

Lost/stolen smartphones are not that big a deal.

First, the perp would need to know where you live. If he or she steals your entire purse or wallet along with your mobile device, that’s one thing, considering driver’s licenses always display your home address. (Then again, you’d have the exact same problem if your purse/wallet got stolen along with your traditional mechanical keys.) If it’s just the smartphone itself that is compromised, you have less to worry about. “Most phones don’t have an address on them and are also password-protected to anything,” says Keith Brandon, Kwikset’s director of residential access control. Even then, they’d need to get into the app and know your password to actually control the lock. “It’s a remote chance … even more remote than losing your keys today with a standard mechanical key.”

Of course, this means you’ll need to password protect your phone and the app for the wireless lock. “Some people want to be able to unlock their doors very quickly and easily, and may choose not to password protect either the phone or the applications,” says Jason Williams, general manager, Yale Residential. So if you’re worried that on the off chance someone might steal your phone, figure out your address, and get to your house before you realize what’s happening, simply password protect both your phone and the lock app.

If your phone dies, you can still get in. 

Luckily, most smart locks have some sort of backup in case your phone dies. Yale, for example, has several models, like the YRD240 ($275) Amazon Image that have keypad backup, allowing you to enter a PIN code if the phone dies. Kwikset has a backup keyway, as well as online accounts that let you log in from anywhere and unlock your house from afar. Sure, if you’re phone is dead you might have to hit up the neighbor for Internet access, but the hassle is far less than if you lost an actual mechanical key.

If the lock’s batteries die, you can also still get in (sometimes). 

In general, you are going to have plenty of warnings before the lock’s batteries fail. For example, Yale Real Living locks have a one-year battery life and you are given a 30-day warning, along with a warning one or two days before the batteries lose their juice. Some locks include keys for added peace of mind. The new Yale Key Free Deadbolt has an external jumper; if the lock dies, a 9-volt battery provides enough power to let you input the PIN code and unlock the door. Kwikset pushes notifications about dwindling batteries to your phone. Rest assured, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to change the batteries before they fail. 

Secure home network and don’t worry about hackers. 

Of course, with great convenience comes vulnerability. Hacking can be problematic, but generally, vulnerabilities reside with the homeowner’s network, not the lock itself. “We certainly go to great lengths to secure our product and use standard encryption when it comes to the wireless communication. But when it comes to protection against hacking, the weak point is often an unsecure home router. This is something Yale can’t control, so it’s important that homeowners protect their networks,” says Williams. Kwikset likewise puts the onus on the home network: “The base lock RF communications are at the top-end AES security standards, but sure, if it falls into the network security realm with in-home routers, consumers must continue to use passwords and manage their access cautiously,” says Brandon. Long story short: Vigorously protect your home network, which is something you should be doing anyway.


Kwikset’s Kevo Bluetooth lock has no keypad at all, for a traditional appearance.

They are inexpensive and easy to install. 

Wireless locks range anywhere from around $199 to $275. Yale Real Living Locks with Z-Wave and ZigBee integration, for example, are $225-$275 and Kwikset’s models are $199 to $249 for Z-Wave models. By including Z-Wave and ZigBee technologies, these locks will be compatible with a wider range of smart home technologies, allowing them to integrate into larger platforms to allow things like geo-fencing (the ability for your doors to unlock automatically based on your location) and inclusion in a string of commands (like unlock door, turn on lights, cue relaxing music). Additionally, most wireless locks are very easy to install with a simple screwdriver.

They are getting better-looking all the time.

Perhaps one of the bigger drawbacks from a homeowner’s perspective is having their home look like an industrial fortress instead of a cozy cottage thanks to some of the larger and less attractive models on the market. Fortunately, manufacturers continue to streamline their locks. We especially like models without keypads, like Kevo from Kwikset. Poly-control’s DanaLock line is not only keyless, but keypad-less for a totally streamlined appearance. You can use a keyfob to unlock the door (kind of like a garage-door opener) or your smartphone.



Poly-Control's DanaLock line

Poly-Control’s DanaLock line


Whether you are considering a keypad, keypad + key, or none of the above, these wireless locks have a lot to offer in the way of convenience. With a little precaution and care to protect your network and phone, they may actually be safer than their mechanical brethren. So don’t bother leaving a key under the mat. Just take your smart phone with you.

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