It’s tempting to imagine that, like with paper maps and mechanical watches, digital lock technologies are eclipsing their manual counterparts.  Digital security used to sound like a scene from James Bond, involving MI6 technicians crowding around complex facial recognition gadgets which cased the crowd for counter-spies and terrorists. Now, they’re commonplace consumer goods.  But do they live up to their marketing?

Spy thrillers promise that technology is the answer to security, and companies are quick to deliver copycat devices to their customers. The Quantum of Solace face recognition scene was set in 2006, and by 2008, Sony’s C902 early smartphone already included a face recognition capabilities. In gun technology, Skyfall’s biometric palm lock has been imitated by Kodiak Arms’ Intelligun, earning it early praise as an innovative solution to public safety issues.  Smaller home security gadgets including wireless pressure mats and Bluetooth-access padlocks advertise convenience and safety for large households and AirBnb hosts alike, along with the fantasy that secret agent security is now affordable for everyone.

There are two serious flaws to this fantasy.  Digital locks across the board have repeatedly demonstrated themselves vulnerable to relatively simple hacking techniques. Even those few that did pass muster on the computerised hacking tests found themselves vulnerable to a good-old-fashioned manual technology: the screwdriver. In another test, lock experts defeated high-tech security the subtle manipulation of a metal bar. This is the second and less obvious flaw pointed out by locksmiths: many digital locks are still vulnerable to physical mistakes.  Dead bolts aren’t properly installed or easily bypassed.  Locks snap, and doors themselves are vulnerable at their hinges.  Sometimes, there’s an open window nearby.

It’s not that these copycat devices are lying.  Digital locks are convenient and generally effective against crimes of opportunity and amateurs.  However, like for anything of serious value, relying on only one method of security is always unwise.  If it’s worth protecting, it’s worth taking digital and manual measures.

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