The combination of lock and key is by far one of the most well-known and most widely used security devices in the world, having been used as far back as Biblical times. And for most of its history, both of these components were purely mechanical in nature. With the recent invention of electronics, the lock and key has been adapted to take advantage of these newer technologies. Examples of these are still in use today, such as the digital safe (which requires a code to be entered into an electronic keypad) and the keycard lock commonly found oh hotel room doors (which needs a plastic card that stores a security code to be read by a card reader on the lock).

But times are changing. With each passing day, crafty individuals are figuring out new and ostensibly more creative ways to bypass security systems and take the things you care about from you. Besides potential thieving, there is also the much more likely occurrence of you losing your keys, key cards, or forgetting your security codes in the first place, which usually means costly and time-consuming trips to the locksmith. As security companies and thieves are in a constant arms race to respectively create and break down new security barriers, it’s easy to say the lock and key system as we know it today just won’t cut it anymore. Commercial enterprises know this all too well, which is why they are trending towards fresh and innovative technologies to improve security and convenience. Wireless access control is one of them.

Cutting the cord

The concept behind wireless access control systems is simple enough – it takes the standard electronic security system you usually see in offices and removes all the wires – but a lot of the ‘magic’ of wireless security systems lies under the hood. Wireless security systems are, as the name implies, wireless, so they make use of wireless protocols such as radio or WiFi to allow locks, keys, and administrator access points to communicate with each other. This gives administrators the ability to reconfigure the authentication rights of locks and keys in real time, at any time. This is particularly useful for, say, office spaces with a lot of outsiders or visitors – managers or supervisors can simply enable basic access rights for an individual ‘key’ device. And, in the event that a key device is lost, administrators can simply use the access point to remove all access rights from that device to prevent security breaches.

The ‘wireless’ in the wireless security system doesn’t just refer to authentication, though. Wireless security systems are also powered without any wires, instead using batteries which are installed on every lock and key device in the system. In traditional electronic security systems, each lock has to be powered constantly for authenticating keys; however, thanks to new technologies such as ultra-low-power RFID, wireless locks can continue operating for several weeks while only using small batteries. This allows companies to save money over time due to lower energy costs, and allows the locks themselves to be smaller and more portable. Because of this, the systems are also able to adapt to a wide variety of applications. For instance, a company renting out office space in an older or historical building can use a security system with wireless access control without having to make any major renovations that would damage or otherwise tarnish the existing architecture.

There’s an app for that

Smartphones are taking over the world, and we are welcoming it with open arms. And why wouldn’t we? The smartphone takes every gadget we used to have separately – our computer, our phone, our camera, our game console, our GPS – and combines it into one device that can fit in our pockets. And with the power of vast app stores, we can let our phones do just about anything. Security companies know this, and see an opportunity – why don’t we let our phones act as keys?

Enter the smart lock. The smart lock is a variation on the electronic locks with wireless access control, but phones are used as the keys instead of a separate keycard or tag. Since smart locks communicate with phones for authentication, they tend to use WiFi or Bluetooth instead of RFID. These locks are gaining popularity, particularly in the residential sector, as they, like wireless locks, can be easily installed into a house door, providing great door security and convenient access for the homeowner.

Some challenges

But like all security systems, wireless access control isn’t completely secure, and with technology thrown into the mix, wireless security systems will have to defend against attacks from multiple angles.

For instance, there is the issue of data security. Because lock and key devices in a wireless system send signals over wireless protocols like WiFi, Bluetooth, or RFID, there is potential for these signals to be intercepted, allowing authentication keys to be duplicated and allowing entry into secured locations. To combat this, wireless security systems should communicate using high-grade encryption to prevent hackers from figuring out the codes or at least stall them long enough for the company to reset the codes.

You also have the problem of physical intrusion. Regardless of how secure or how well-encrypted your wireless locks are, they will still fall to a couple of hand tools and a bit of force. Of course, classic solutions can get around this hurdle, like security guards and surveillance or alarm systems.

As mentioned before, the security industry is in a constant war against hackers and thieves. And depending on your perspective, you can say that either the bad guys or the good guys are leading the race. But the truth of the matter is that the battle for security is a never-ending cycle; new security methods will be broken or bypassed, which leads to improvements which are then bypassed again, and so on.

Although it’s always nice to have the latest security innovations, physical and mechanical security devices are still around today because they, too, are still quite effective. A well-made home or business security system, then, should embrace both the mechanical and the electronic, and incorporate both to complement each other.

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