Electronic Locks: Advantages and Vulnerabilities

Barry Campbell
Written by Barry Campbell
Updated March 24, 2015
Giving the code to your electronic keypad lock to someone who needs access to your home is a lot easier than having additional keys made. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Today's high-tech entry systems offer ease of use ... but are they more secure?

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Electronic versions of residential entry locks and deadbolts are nothing new. They commonly use push buttons or a keypad to enter a series of numbers to unlock the door.

But now many more electronic locks are becoming available that can be opened using a keyless entry fob (like the one for your car), or via your smartphone or computer. While considerably more expensive than a standard mechanical lock, electronic locks are becoming more competitively priced.

Then and now

The idea behind a basic electronic lock is simple: use a keypad or push buttons to enter a code rather than using a key (although most allow the use of a key to lock the door).

Because a mechanical key cylinder can still be used, the basic electronic locks offer no more security than the mechanical type. Additionally, anyone in the area can observe the code being used, effectively giving them a “key.”

Today’s high-tech electronic locks operate wirelessly, whether or not they have an exposed keypad. These newer ones use communication technologies such as Bluetooth, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi.

Advantages to an electronic residential lock

Ease of use  With newer models, the option of using a keyless entry fob device to unlock your door can be easier than fumbling with a key when your arms are full of groceries, for example.

Kids  If you have children, this can be a good reason to use an electronic lock with a keypad or push buttons to enter an entry code. They can get in the habit of securing and opening the home without worrying about lost keys.

Convenience  There is no greater security offered by using electronic locks; sometimes there is less. But there are times when convenience is important. If you have several people needing access to a single door, an electronic lock with keypad or push-button code operation may be a better solution than issuing a number of keys.

Remember that the more ways there are to unlock a door, the more vulnerable it is to being bypassed. 

New technology means new vulnerabilities

The vulnerabilities of mechanical locking systems are well-documented and widely known.

But a physical contact is necessary to bypass a mechanical lock. The necessity for physical presence is reduced or eliminated when locks are operated wirelessly, and that creates a new vulnerability: hacking. Cyber criminals delight in overcoming security obstacles, and it’s anyone's guess how long these technologies will withstand the challenge.

Common-sense security measures

Not all vulnerabilities are tied to sophisticated cybercrime. Some are decidedly low-tech.

Keeping a secret  Giving the code to your electronic keypad lock to someone who needs access to your home is a lot easier than having additional keys made. But anyone who knows your code can just as easily pass it on. The good news: codes are relatively easy to change.

Low battery is a bad thing   Most people seem to abhor lock maintenance. It is rare enough to find someone who regularly lubricates a mechanical lock.

Electronic locks require battery changes just like many other electrical appliances. Fortunately, most electronic locks will signal when the battery level is getting low. (But the battery issue is something to consider when using an electronic lock on a vacation home, for example, or other location where it may not be regularly inspected.)

Don’t forget the warranty

Most manufacturers of electronic locks have separate warranties for the mechanical and electrical parts of their products. One manufacturer offers a lifetime mechanical warranty, but only one year on the electrical component. The difference may not be so drastic with other manufacturers, but there will almost always be a significant difference.

As of March 24, 2015, this service provider was highly rated on Angi. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angi for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angi.

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