Investigating electronic locks and keys

July 2016 Access Control & Identity Management, Asset Management, EAS, RFID

The million-dollar question is whether you would be happy having your keys fall into the hands of someone who might have criminal intent? Rhetorical question? Perhaps. But what are you actively doing to ensure that each key your business owns is traceable and remains within your facilities?

Wouter du Toit, Salto Systems.
Wouter du Toit, Salto Systems.

As a precursor to the discussion, it is important to point out that there is a marked difference between electronic keys and electronic locks. Wouter du Toit of Salto Systems says that his company has been in the business of designing and manufacturing electronic locks for a wide variety of industries over a number of years.

The beauty of an electronic lock is that it can use some of the elements of existing mechanical locks and is accessed with RFID cards. These electronic lock sets work with mechanical mortice locks in the door itself.

In addition, Salto’s range also includes escutcheons which are finding growing popularity for use at fire doors and emergency exits. All Salto locks require no external power supply and they are completely wireless.

Electronic locks, says Du Toit, can be integrated with a building’s access control element on the door to provide additional security. These locks are quicker to install than a standard access control reader and can be accessed and controlled via a mobile phone or fob.

Hosea Malope, Zonke Monitoring Systems.
Hosea Malope, Zonke Monitoring Systems.

Hosea Malope of Zonke Monitoring Systems (ZMS), says that monitoring of keys, whether electronic or manual, will provide organisations with greater assurance that their assets are protected. A reputable key management system should both log keys and track them, with predefined instructions on who is permitted to take a specific key and when the key must be returned to the safety of the key box. In addition, the system should have the ability to raise an alert when the key is not returned within the given time parameters.

Tracking can be performed through a web based system that is accessible via a mobile device or PC. This system will provide a real-time indication of where a key is at all times and can remotely allocate a key, as well as the specific function of the key, to a particular person.

Du Toit says that electronic locks can be integrated with access control systems through a mobile phone using mobile apps with Bluetooth functionality or near field communication (NFC). The connection with the remote server will establish whether you have the pre-programmed functionality to enter the door. Presently, Salto locks are enabled to work on Samsung Android devices and iOS phones.

“Rather than opening the door as such, this technology is used to update the RFID card which performs the role of a key for the door in question. This is particularly useful for mobile workforces, specifically where no network infrastructure is available. One therefore uses one’s phone for updating the credentials of the card,” says Du Toit.

Mobile solutions via Bluetooth started this initiative in the hospitality sector, where guests were sent the credentials of their hotel room access. They then use a mobile app and Bluetooth on their phone which is activated to unlock their particular room on the correct day. The benefits derived from applications in the hospitality arena have spilled over into the business access control sector, where consumer driven demand has resulted in a growing number of applications. Consumers concerned about phone batteries dying will not be left high and dry as the RFID card is used as a backup.

Du Toit says that the Salto locks use their own software and systems but they have also been integrated with the software and hardware of many leading access control developers. These integrations are enabled through both web interfaces and a cloud based system.

Malope says that ZMS key box units currently interface with 11 of the more well-known access control systems and the company continues to develop interfaces to further systems as the need arises or consumer demand dictates.

What about electronic keys?

Both Du Toit and Malope are wary about the use of electronic keys due to both the additional initial outlay as well as the cost involved in replacing them should they be lost or stolen. In addition, backup batteries are expensive, so it is always a good idea to ensure that one closely monitors the current battery level to ensure that these keys remain operational. They point out that the upside, however, is that they are difficult to duplicate, adding an additional element of security.

Another advantage of electronic keys that both interviewees acknowledge is that if a key is lost or stolen, it can be invalidated online. Systems can also call for regular revalidation of keys and when this does not occur, the key will be taken offline and will therefore stop working. If someone then tries to revalidate the electronic key at a revalidation point the system will indicate that the key is invalid. Loss of a mechanical key is more serious as one would then need to completely replace the lock to ensure complete security.

The bottom line here, says Malope is that you need to keep all keys in a key box on company premises before the key holder exits the premises. When in use, it needs to be traceable to the user and its location should be known at all times. In specific industries, such as the mines and in the gaming sector, the deposit of the key in a key box before an employee departs after a shift is legislated and non-negotiable. Not only does this ensure that keys are not stolen or lost, but the safety of the employee, who could be construed as a soft target when carrying a key outside company premises, is increased. The system can be programmed to automatically issue an exception report when a key which is allocated for daily use, has not been accessed on a particular day.

Mechanical keys are in many instances being superseded by technology such as RFID cards embedded with data that allow access by the allocated user. Lost cards for electronic locks can be cancelled on the fly, allowing an extra level of security not provided by conventional offline access card based systems. Salto has in fact instituted a system whereby revalidation is required and customisable time periods set for various people’s security levels – hourly, daily or weekly. An online solution using controllers can send a blacklist of users to any device by updating the card.

Du Toit suggests that where possible, one should use a mortice lock rather than a mag lock as this is the most secure element inside the door and is always fail secure unlike a mag lock which is failsafe.

Ultimately, the goal is to safeguard company assets and this can be assisted through knowing where the keys are at any given point and by protecting them through the use of an appropriate key box system. Furthermore, where budget allows, electronic door locks combined with RFID cards, will provide enhanced security due to their ability to be activated and deactivated remotely.

Product focus

All Zonke key boxes allow a number of access control modes to be used, including biometric fingerprint, card and PIN, either individually or in combination, depending on the security levels required. The key boxes range from a simple box built into the wall with a PIN used to open it, to more sophisticated vault-style applications. Options are available for private households and also for remote sites.

The Security Asset Manager (SAM) range includes key boxes in 8, 16, 32-, 64, or 96-key designs that house various options such as direct entrapment, interchangeable cores, custom cylinder mounting, tamper-proof key rings as well as KSI keys. The company’s electronic Tamper-Proof Key Rings provide high level security. After the key(s) are attached to the Tamper-Proof-Key Ring, the ends are sealed using a crimping tool. Every ring is stamped with a unique serial number, allowing complete audit of the ring and key.

SAM offers a self-contained fingerprint reader that stores biometric profile data directly in ZMS’ GFMS database. PIN and fingerprint verification provides dual security at the time of authorisation and users may enrol from either a desktop workstation or directly at any device within the GFMS network.


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