Alarming Events in Access Control

Technically speaking, access control is an area where east truly meets west. I am referring to ancient physical lock technology pairing up with modern electronic/electromechanical access control technology. Like myself, I assume many of you have varying levels of expertise in the latter. Regardless, we all need to get a better understanding of both modern and ancient technologies. Furthermore, as you will see, thanks to modern Web 2.0 social technologies, certain aspects of the physical security landscape are rapidly changing.

What Goes ‘Bump’ in the Night?
It is not often I come across security information that on a macro level I feel is truly revolutionary and has the potential to change the security industry landscape as we know it. I am referring to a methodology called key bumping. This is a lock-opening technique that has been used by locksmiths for more than 75 years but was mostly kept from public eyes and knowledge. A bump key is a lock key in which the teeth have been ground down to the lowest level, known as level 9. Other slight modifications are also made for the key to be slid into any lock.

Then, with a little tension and a precise sharp impact on the bump key, the pins are momentarily bounced in an open position and the key turns to open the lock. Existing keys as well can be easily filed down with a simple triangular file from the hardware store and made into a bump key. Less than a dozen popular key styles provide 80 to 90 percent of all basic U.S. lock sets.

Almost any existing tumbler-type key lock (even some thought to be high security key locks) can easily be opened. To compound matters, organizations such as The Open Organization of Lockpickers or Toool ( promote the art, and yes the sport, of lock picking and key bumping. This Europe-based organization recently opened a U.S. chapter.

Thanks to the Web 2.0 concept mentioned earlier and the popularity of such Web sites as YouTube, this well-kept trade practice is now very public, including how-to video tutorials and full-length training seminars. Premade bump key sets can be purchased openly on the Internet. They are often referred to as “depth keys.” A Google video search on “key bumping” will surprise you.

According to noted security expert Marc Tobias, “Bumping is a real threat. If you have conventional pin tumbler locks, they are at risk. If a burglar wants to bump open your locks and you have pin tumbler mechanisms, then there is a high probability that your lock can be compromised.”

Presently, there is no bumping-resistance test for lock standards such as ANSI/BHMA A 156.3-2003 and UL 437. However, locks with advanced technology such as sidebars do offer key-bumping resistance.

On a positive note, this should be a big boom for alarm system sales as alarms have always been used to complement and enhance lock security. Alarm dealers need to remember many alarm control cabinets have simple tumbler-type locks as well. You have been installing your tamper switch circuits, right?

Also, don’t forget many standalone, electrified door locks use common type tumbler key sets as a physical key override. Some manufacturers can provide nonkeyed versions. A problem with key bumping is there is usually no noticeable physical entry damage. Could this start counting for some false alarms? Will the insurance company pay for losses with no physical damage? All the more reason for professionally monitored alarm equipment.

Good Way to Boost Access Profits
Recently, I read statistics indicating 85 percent of commercial alarm monitoring customers do not currently have electronic access control. Many central stations now offer the capability of adding access equipment that can be controlled through the monitoring center automation. This service is a particularly attractive add-on for customers who already have central station monitoring.

One such system is VertX CS from Irvine, Calif.-based HID. Brenton Scott, executive director of Business Development for HID, recently commented, “Access control is an untapped, or undertapped, market that heretofore has not been addressed very well.”

In the past, central station support of standard remote access hardware required additional manpower. However, this new remote support automation software can drastically reduce the drain on personnel resources. Another great feature is redundancy since remote central station support allows onsite security guards to be more mobile. Redundant access control support also provides backup in case of a natural disaster.

IEI Tech Expert Offers Access Tips
I recently presented some access control questions to Bruce Wattendorf, a technical support specialist with Canton, Mass.-based International Electronics Inc. (IEI). IEI manufactures a wide range of access control products, including smaller one- to four-door systems.

First, I asked what things a technician should consider before installing a system. Wattendorf recommended: 1. Check with the AHJ for the proper codes. 2. When installing maglocks, make sure the controls are protected from voltage spikes. 3. Make sure the system has enough current. 4. For maglocks, make sure the door is structurally strong enough.

Secondly, I asked what were the control considerations for life-safety and failsafe operation of an egress door. He replied: 1. Installing a request-to-exit (REX) device. 2. Checking if the maglock is of proper holding size for the code the AHJ uses. 3. Determining if the maglock is to be connected to the fire alarm.

Next, I inquired what the three main problems IEI tech support encounters on small access control systems. According to Wattendorf, they are: 1. Not enough current powering the system — there should be at least 10-percent more than specified. 2. No isolation on the circuit to protect the controller from reverse voltage “kick back,” thereby causing controller memory to become corrupt. 3. Using the proper power for maglocks and the controller.

Finally, I asked for tips on fire-rated door installations. He recommended: 1. Use steel through bolts. 2. Fill any holes left open on the door with either steel through bolts or fireproofing. 3. Make sure to go through the local AHJ because “a maglock improperly installed can be as dangerous as a drunk driver.”

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