Electronic Locks for AirBNB and Similar Applications

If you are trying to run some kind of an AirBNB, you need a lock that

  • You can unlock remotely in case of a problem
  • You can be sure people can’t come back once their rental time is up
  • You can tell remotely when the door is shut and locked
  • You can be certain that your property is secure

There is a product family for you. It is called The Internet of Things and using wireless protocols like Zigbee and Z-wave you can accomplish everything in the list above, all without any monthly fees except your internet connection.

To make this happen the first thing you need is a hub. It can be a Z-wave hub or an Apple TV hub but there are compatibility issues because the technology is not yet mature and Apple is not known for being into hardware interoperability but is also a large force in the market. If you like open protocols so that your hardware will be supported by the community longer you should go for Z-wave compatibility. Now you have to connect your hub to your internet connection, probably through a router.

The next step is to get a lock that is compatible. I don’t remember where I read it but I remember reading that the best consumer grade electronic lock for Z-wave compatibility is the Yale Real Living line of locks. They come with really weak strike plates so you’ll want to get a better strike plate if you choose this. Then you have to program the lock to work with your Z-wave hub. I am a bigger fan of the Schlage BE469NX line, though you’d be well advised to get a set of rechargeable batteries because if wirelessly connected this lock goes through batteries fast. There is also the Kwikset Kevo but any security professional will tell you that it is trivial to force these over, even the newer version. I can usually unlock this deadbolt in under one minute with nothing more than my lockpicks and a screwdriver.

To make sure the lock only locks when the door is shut, you need a Remote Sensor to let the lock know when the door is open and shut. This sensor will allow you to know that your property is secure instead of knowing only whether the lock is engaged without knowing whether the door is open or shut. This sensor also prevents the lock from throwing the bolt when the door is open and then some fool shutting the door with the bolt thrown which might cause the bolt to bend or break. Then you’d have to go out and fix it or pay me to do it for  you.

Once you have the sensor and the lock configured with the hub and an optional wireless camera you can see who comes to the door and open it remotely for them, change the code remotely, and also rest easy knowing that your place is secure. You can do this anywhere with a reasonable internet connection.

I have only set up one lock for a customer to work with Z-wave but never for myself because I have certain apprehensions about putting my security on a network connected to the internet. I like good old-fashioned locks for my security needs. Therefore I won’t be able to help you connect your consumer grade electronic locks to the internet. Most people who are interested in this sort of thing are comfortable installing and configuring the locks themselves.

As of this writing you can get a Z-wave lock for less than $200 and a sensor for $50. A Z-wave hub will probably be over $100.


The Story of a Locksmith in Seattle and an Abused Lock

This knob was destroyed and then some criminals gained entry. A knob guard protects your doorknob and prevents this.

There is a parking garage somewhere in Seattle where criminals want to go really badly. It all started with this old Schlage D series knob getting destroyed. This was the most robust of Schlage’s product line and a very expensive lock, it is too bad this got ruined by some lowlife.






This is a lock with a knob guard that stopped criminals in their tracks.

I installed a replacement knob and a shroud over it called a knob guard so that the knob is not directly accessible and can’t be hammered or wrenched.

Despite the lock being destroyed, the knob guard did its job: the criminals were denied entry. Imagine how long they must have been prying and pounding on this poor doorknob before giving up!




The nice thing about knob guards: inexpensive doorknobs can be used in them with relatively high security.

For high crime areas this is an inexpensive way to guard your building. Bolt this knob guard on over your doorknob and even if the knob is destroyed it can be replaced with another inexpensive doorknob. The knobs I’m using here are about 1/5 the price of the one that after being destroyed allowed the thieves access to the building so the knob guard pays for itself after the first break-in attempt. Of course destruction of your property is not ideal but if you can’t afford a late night security detail and can’t get the police to patrol the area more frequently this is an inexpensive option for you.

Mortise lock broke? Convert to passage, keep the attractive lock

A mortise lock converted from an entry lock to a passage lock. This is reversible.

Sometimes I have a customer who’s fed up with their rickety old mortise lock but doesn’t want to get rid of it because they are so attractive. Sometimes it isn’t worth it to fix an old mortise lock because either there aren’t replacement parts, there’s too many broken parts to make repairs cost-effective, when locked the door can’t be unlocked from the inside so it’s a fire hazard, etc. In this situation an attractive security solution is to convert the mortise lock to a passage (non-locking) lock and install a deadbolt above the mortise lock.

Mortise locks can often be converted to a passage function lock pretty easily. All that needs to be done is to take out all of the parts that contribute to making the locking functions work: the bolt, the buttons on the side that deactivate the outside of the door, the hub for the thumbturn, etc.

Once all of that stuff is removed you can either replace the cylinder with a flat dummy cylinder (no keyhole) or keep the existing cylinder in there. It won’t do anything since there isn’t a bolt to interact with anymore. You should put the thumbturn back on since it’ll look bad if you don’t.

If your deadbolt matches with a similar finish then your door should now be highly functional, secure and tasteful!

Nightmares with computers

Just bought a nice computer from system76.com, pretty excited to try out an nvme drive, decent video card, etc and buy the thing as a business expense. Only problem is, new computers are impossible to install operating systems on. I’ve probably spent  ten hours trying to install windows, debian, ubuntu, fedora etc on it.

Originally I wanted to install windows 7 in a dual boot configuration, something I’ve done probably fifteen times before. That was back when things were simpler, and there was an MBR and fdisk and stuff that was time-tested.

Enter 2017. The System76 system came with a nvme drive which may possibly require uefi, gpt, and numerous other mumbo jumbo. I have repartitioned and formatted this poor nvme disk so many times it’s sad. I no longer care about installing windows on this laptop, I just want it to boot to something. Anything!

The problem is that I either can’t install GRUB for some reason or that the system simply won’t boot. There is no optical drive so optical discs won’t work. I bought a usb optical drive but it didn’t help. You can’t install windows 7 from a usb3 port and that’s all this system has.

The solution to getting windows 7 to install on this thing is a long series of esoteric commands to slipstream usb3 drivers into the windows 7 image. It failed for some reason.

I believe the issue is that the installation media for linux doesn’t detect that efi is required, some workarounds are described that involve downloading a special version of grub for efi and amd64. Unfortunately this system uses a wireless hardware without drivers known to linux so it isn’t automatically configured. That means that you can’t automatically get set up to download new drivers or missing software.

I am sure that usually system76 computers are great but for me this is a giant headache, and I’ve been using linux for more than ten years.

Update: the trick to reinstalling turned out to be using ubuntu 16.10 which has the necessary drivers for nvme drives. I don’t know why neither the mint or the debian distro had this. A working computer once more!

Hacking Bluetooth Electronic Locks

One of the problems with being an early adopter of technology is that once a bunch of hardware is deployed that protects untold millions of dollars of stuff from theft, there is a big incentive to find vulnerabilities in that hardware. Regular old locks are tried and true. Their vulnerabilities are known. Most of these vulnerabilities have been minimized.

Enter electronic locks. Many are using technologies that are less than ten years old. A lot of locks are using Bluetooth low energy technology to communicate with people’s phones. These locks are very convenient but there are some very smart people working to find out how to unlock them and sharing what they find with the world. Look at this guy, he and his friends are working hard to figure out how to unlock bluetooth compatible locks like the August deadbolt. They describe how they reverse engineered some locks that operate by a similar principle. Hopefully the manufacturers of your lock are going to release firmware updates if vulnerabilities are discovered in the future.

If you use electronic locks that are using new whiz bang features and technology like bluetooth, you should probably keep an eye on the development of vulnerabilities for those locks. To keep your computer secure you must adhere to a regular software update cycle. If you have a computer securing your front door you must update it as well!

Update Your Lock with New Trim

If you have an aging mortise lock, chances are that you can dress it up without replacing the expensive lock itself. Mortise locks have trim such as the knob or lever, thumblatch, and thumbturn that are visible and interact with the lock. They may be scarred and corroded. These parts can be replaced independently of the mortise lock as long as the trim for your mortise lock is still manufactured.


The trim can be replaced, as seen on this Baldwin lock. If your lock has a lifetime warranty on the finish  you may be able to get the replacement trim for free!
The trim can be replaced, as seen on this Baldwin lock. If your lock has a lifetime warranty on the finish you may be able to get the replacement trim for free!