Blog – Seattle's Maple Leaf Locksmith LLC – (206)335-4559

Changing the Master Key Without Changing Tenant or User Keys

God forbid the dark day comes when your building’s master key is compromised. Perhaps it was forgotten in a lock, carelessly left on a desk, or was in a stolen purse. However it was lost, somebody has it and they may mean to use it to commit some crime. Hopefully only petty theft, but possibly assault could occur and you might be held liable. But you already know that or you wouldn’t be reading this!

The obvious thing to do aside from getting the master key back from the criminal is to change the master key to a new key without changing any of the tenant keys. Easier said than done! It is possible to do easily in some circumstances, but it may make sense if the tenant keys can’t be changed to deactivate the master key for the building until a later date. Read on for details…

Let’s start off with the perfect scenario (if one forgets about the highly imperfect start to this scenario), where a building uses a master key system that was designed with one or two chambers held constant for tenant keys but the master key is different for that chamber. In this scenario all the locksmith has to do is cut a new key to be designated the master with a different depth that the previous one for that chamber, and change the pins for that chamber. The old master key won’t work for any lock that this is done for.

In my experience this is not likely for most buildings where different locksmiths have come in and rekeyed the locks to work with the master key but haven’t adhered to any system for the building. It is possible there never was a system, or the system was drawn up on a napkin forty years ago and immediately used to blow one’s nose and thrown away. This is one of the times when it becomes obvious why it is great to have and maintain a proper master key system. Following is a more technical explanation for why this is difficult if there was not a chamber held.

Successful masterkeying requires paying attention to many details. Different lock manufacturers have different specifications for what pins can be used in their locks. Some locks, like those manufactured by Sargent, are machined to such tight tolerances that you can use master pins only .020″ thick. These are thin little round pieces of brass that enable one more key to work for each one. Add two of these in a pin stack and you can have two more keys work in that lock cylinder. If you put that same .020″ pin in a Schlage or even worse Kwikset cylinder it will jam up. Not immediately for the Schlage but eventually it will. It will happen almost immediately for the Kwikset lock which typically have very loose tolerances.

In a master key system there are many more rules and limitations based on the angle of the cuts on the key and other boring things I will leave out because I’m not trying to write a book but suffice it to say that if you have a building with say twenty units and everybody’s lock is using the same pins on the first chamber, you can make a new master key work in that chamber but you can’t make the old master key stop working for that chamber because everybody else’s key has the same cut as the master key for that chamber.

Another problem that prevents easily changing the master key is if tenant keys are differing by depths of something other than a standard depth. Master key systems cannot work properly if there are keys that are cut too closely to the master key. Schlage master key systems are supposed to work in increments of .015″, for example, but a master pin can not be less than .030″. If you have a system that isn’t really a system but actually just a hodgepodge of keys that are compatible but not in a system it becomes somewhat difficult to change the master key because in the second chamber all of the tenant keys may be .030″ different from the original master key but all other possible cuts for the master key could be .015″ difference.

To make it even more complicated, if we are being responsible human beings we must consider whether or not the master key might work in these locks even after changing the pins by pulling it out slightly. I subcontracted for another locksmith who controlled the restricted keyway for a customer I was doing this very thing for, we were changing the master key without changing the tenant keys. The new master key that they chose had different depths but unfortunately if you pulled the old master key out a little bit in the locks keyed for the new master key it lifted the pins to the right height. This was partially because some doofus in the past filed some of the plugs which made the cylinders have looser tolerances.

Assuming that your building is like many apartment buildings in Seattle you probably have a hodgepodge of keys not conforming to an actual system. The best I can do for you is measure the depths of all of your keys, make a matrix, and from that figure out the least invasive way to change the master key. It may be possible in a small building to choose a new master key without impacting anybody else. It may be required to change one tenant’s keys in order to keep the master key from working.

I know that this is probably an impenetrable mental puddle of barf to anybody but me or maybe another locksmith or at best a lock enthusiast but hopefully the takeaway is that master key systems depend on rules about how compatible keys are cut and if the tenant keys aren’t all created based on a sensible system like rolling constant, the chances of changing your master key in an existing system without changing at least a few tenant keys can be unlikely.

Lock battery fail – you ought to use AA batteries

Saw this one today, customer bought a house and wanted me to rekey all of their locks, was wondering why the electronic lock didn’t work. I have never seen this in my life. You pulled AA batteries out of it, why would you put noticeably smaller batteries in it? AA and AAA alkaline batteries do actually put out the same amount of voltage at 1.5V but AAA will only last half as long and being shorter might mean that the lock only works intermittently. Those springs are designed to push up against a longer battery. Most locks use AA or 9V batteries. If in doubt it probably says in the battery compartment what kind of battery you are supposed to use!

While on the subject of batteries and locks I should also throw this out there: not all batteries of the same form factor put out the same voltage. A AA battery might put out 1.2 to 1.6V. If the lock requires 4 batteries and is expecting 1.5 volts from all of the batteries but only getting 1.2 it is a voltage drop of over 1V, and it might not be enough for the lock’s motor to turn. Rechargeable batteries don’t usually put out 1.5V, they put out 1.2V, and the lock will not work reliably. Failed electronic locks are one of the top reasons I get called for lockouts. Most devices are still designed for alkaline batteries. Lithium batteries are of different chemistry but put out 1.5V too. Alkaline batteries maintain the correct voltage for longer too, rechargeable batteries will quickly lose voltage. That is fine for a flashlight, it only gets dimmer. For things with integrated circuits and stuff that needs a more regulated voltage it will more likely stop working altogether.

When you change the lock’s batteries keep your eye out for corrosion of the terminals. Rust is obviously bad. If you see a white powder that is probably leaked battery acids which solidify into metal salts. Careful cleaning that stuff, if you scrape it off the spring terminal it could fly in your eye. Vinegar will dissolve it and then you can wipe it up. Don’t go being an idiot and pour vinegar into the battery compartment, apply it with a q-tip or something. A bunch of vinegar sloshing around in the lock will not do the circuit board any favors.

When I got into safe work some years ago I noticed the main thing safe guys like to obsess about is batteries. All locksmiths are obsessed with lubricants and which one is the best, safe guys are very particular about batteries. Brand and expiration date mostly. If you want to watch a safe guy’s head explode call them and say you have a warranty issue about a safe lock they installed and make sure there are dollar store batteries in the keypad and claim that they installed those batteries. They will go Tasmanian Devil on you, frothing at the mouth while sputtering and choking out guttural sounds that might remind you of “Energizer” and “Duracell” as they knock everything down around them like a whirling dervish with crossed wires.

These things also matter to your electronic deadbolt: Duracell batteries with an expiration date several years in the future will last a lot longer than some batteries you found covered with a curious sticky substance and cat hair at the back of the bottom shelf at TJ Maxx.

Repairing a Door Frame, Emergency

Got called out to fix a kicked-in door downtown. It was a wild night with Pres. Biden visiting town, an escaped zebra running around in the mountains and the base level anarchy that occurs in downtown Seattle on any given day. It was no surprise that a Belltown apartment building’s door got kicked in.

The strike plate and a chunk of wood were missing. I could screw it all back in but the zeitgeist dictates that somebody would only kick it in again. I decided to replace the busted out wood with a ninety degree piece of weldable steel (angle iron) and screw it in from the side and the back.

I hope that this will give future would-be door kickers a little more sport. For anybody trying to replicate, 3/4″ angle iron with 3″ screws countersunk from the side and 2″ screws from the back. This will distribute the force of a kick across a much wider area than the small t-strike that was there before.

You have to remove the wood where the steel will go first, then countersink for the screws, drill pilot holes and then sink the screws in. Then cut a hole for the latch. Only cut it big enough for the deadlatch latch to go in, not the button. I don’t have a picture of this but these people made a great picture illustrating this:

Armor Concepts’ Door Armor: A Review

I don’t want to sound like a shill but let’s get this out of the way first: I think the “Jamb Protector” these folks make is probably the best security improvement most people can make if they already have a decent deadbolt and they install it properly. I have been installing these for years, before they were sold in the big box stores. They have kind of a shoddy marketing department but I’m a believer because I’ve seen their products stop breakins and I’ve fixed lots of frame damage after breakins with them. Now, on to the review.

I think most people will buy the “Door Armor Max” set. It comes with the venerable “jamb protector” pictured below which is essentially a 48″ long strike plate. It comes with screws that are longer than 3″. This will spread the force of an attempted breakin across a much wider area than even the best deadbolt strike and I would say that this is the most important piece of the set. This part alone is very good for fixing frame damage after a break-in, especially if the frame was split or even worse if parts of the frame are missing (see bottom of page).

The “Hinge Shield” after install. Force is distributed over a very large amount of wood. To get the door to shut snugly, lip cut off lip strike.
Here is a cup strike that was destroyed by somebody prying open a door with a crowbar. They got in.

The set also comes with some “Door Shields” that slide over the edge of the door. If you mortise these in they will be flush with the edge of the door. If your house is of new construction it may be better not to mortise them in. Many new houses have a quarter inch gap between the door and frame, you want to keep that gap as small as possible. Surface mount everything and all of a sudden the gap will be much smaller.

On that note, there is an important thing to remember with these long screws: if you overtighten them they will actually drag the doorframe over and if you aren’t careful it will pull your door out of alignment and maybe pull your doorframe away from the door edge far enough that it no longer latches! It could also cause your hinges to squeak annoyingly which is a symptom of their coming premature failure. This isn’t discussed in their documentation. I would advise you to get a 5/32″ drill at least 4″ long to drill pilot holes and also a self-centering drill bit. It will make it easier to get the screws flush (as they can be, more on this later) without throwing the doorframe out of alignment.

Moving on to maybe the most interesting part because it is also the least well designed: the “hinge shield”. The idea is good and Armor Concepts is correct that the hinges are a weak point for a lot of doors with only 1/2″ screws. Additionally I cannot say that I could make a better product. What I will point out are the flaws that I see in this product: if installed, they prevent the door from shutting easily because they block the hinge from closing and when the door is forced close bends the hinge and may cause premature failure of that hinge. This is exacerbated by the fact that the screwheads for this product are of a larger diameter than the taper of the holes in the “hinge shield” and so they don’t actually go flush no matter how much you tighten the screw.

It is therefore my recommendation to not use the hinge shield and instead replace the screws in your hinges with 3.5″ deck screws. It may be that Armor Concepts has done some comparisons between doorframes that have inexpensive hinges with long screws and their product with there being some benefit to doors with their product but as somebody who fights doors with bad hinges or improperly hung doors once a week, I cannot bring myself to condone a product that purposefully spreads a hinge.

Speaking of spreading a hinge I didn’t see this in their documentation when I installed one of these sets earlier this week but here’s a tip: if your door is springing open after installing the hinge shield and it is hard to shut the solution is either to mortise your hinges in at an angle so there is space for the hinge shield when the door is shut (hard) or you have to bend your hinge (easy). The easiest way to do that is to take your trusty 5/32″ drill bit from earlier and stick it between the two parts of the hinge right next to the swivel point and shut the door CAREFULLY so you don’t pinch your fingers and also so you don’t overly bend your hinge. It should be done incrementally until there is an acceptable amount of force to shut your door. If you overdo it, the door might sag and drag on the threshold and then you will have to replace your hinge or hire a handyman to fix it. You have to do this on all hinges on the door too if you want the door to remain level. I hope that I communicated how to do this properly but it is probably confusing.

More tips on installing these sets: if you want to properly set up the strike for the latch you will need to cut off the lip of your latch because you can’t install the jamb shield over a lip strike properly. My solution is to cut the lip off the strike and reinstall. That way it will properly position the door against the weatherstripping and set your deadbolt up to work correctly. If you can see daylight through the edge of your door or feel a breeze consider doing this. There is no good way to use the jamb shield on its own to position doors properly for the deadbolt to work smoothly unless you add a ton of weatherstripping in my experience. One elegant way to do it is to have a strike underneath the jamb shield.

If I were to recommend improvements to the manufacturer I would say that the number one improvement would be to make sure that the screw heads are the same size as the countersink in the hinge shield. Second I would say they should include a lipless adjustable strike that will work underneath the jamb shield, especially important in this age of electronic deadbolts. Other than that there isn’t much to be improved! Hats off to Armor Concepts not only for a well-designed product but also for making bank selling it through Lowe’s. I remember maybe five years ago before Lowe’s carried it calling their business number and some guy in his car answered. They probably have a secretary now.

Fix-A-Jamb installed after a break-in where a cup strike failed. The owner told me that the cup strike had prevented numerous attmpted break-ins over the last few years. This may look trashy but it is secure and a lot cheaper than a new door and frame. For back of house where customers won’t see it the owner thought it was acceptable. He also thought saving a couple thousand dollars was acceptable!

Landlord Tenant Laws and Do Not Duplicate Keys

Update: as expected I confirmed that this is hogwash, landlords are not required to use a restricted keyway for rentals. There is nothing in the Washington State RCW’s that mention this requirement. Here is The Residential Landlord Tenant Act.

Today somebody called me asking about restricted keyways for his rental unit. I warned him that I’ve been told that it is not legal to restrict your tenant’s ability to copy keys to their personal unit, though in multi-unit buildings it is perfectly okay and even suggested to use restricted keys for common entry.

To this he appeared to get huffy and told me that laws going through the legislature will require landlords to use restricted keys for all rentals because of the danger that their keys might be used to open other doors and the landlord who originally issued the key could be found liable for damages.

I didn’t laugh out loud at him when he said this, he hung up too quickly. Look for an update to this article in the next few days because I have to make certain by calling the tenants’ rights union where they have free legal advice about such matters. Even without speaking to a lawyer about this I am pretty certain that this is complete and utter hogwash. No doubt this man found a locksmith happy to sell him some expensive Medeco locks and keys for $300 a pop but there is no way that King County or any other legal entity is requiring landlords to use restricted keys.

The most interesting facet of this is that there may be some forum of landlords urging each other to buy high security locks for their tenants. Just because I tend to see the uglier side of landlord-tenant relations where the tenant is a complete basketcase I tend to side with landlords that protections for tenants are too great in Washington State but it’s good for tenants who aren’t total dirtbags to not be abused by landlords who are, and for them it’s good to know that there are resources available for free! They are very knowledgeable and willing to give advice and if they aren’t certain they ask their lawyers and get back to me.

Update: I tried to call the Seattle Tenant Union a few times. I don’t recommend it unless you have a lot of time to waste. I was on hold for no less than three hours waiting to speak to somebody. I dutifully carried my phone around on speaker output while I did about four jobs. It may be that there wasn’t anybody even answering the phone for The Tenant Union that day. I’m sure they do good work but if you know a lawyer just ask them instead.

Where to get antique-y woodscrews

You’re here because you have a pretty nice old antique lock, but successive visits by helpful tradesmen or well-meaning husbands clearing a docket of tasks as beer thirty approaches have filled the holes on your lock’s trim with a motley selection of steel screws, lag bolts, nails, etc. These look like so many small and glinting black eyes against the clean Art Deco lines of your period lock and door. You need to find appropriate screws, whether because the building is on the national historic register/legal obligation or just the sake of your sanity.But where will you find these screws which aren’t sold at Home Depot? Read on, my friend, I have numerous sources for you to order them from and guidance on what to get.

Placeholder for a picture of a mortise lock thumblatch with inappropriate fasteners to come in the future

A bronze slotted flat head countersunk woodscrew from Fair Winds Fasteners

In my opinion one should use the longest screw possible to utilize fresh wood. After 100 years the wood tends to get stripped out of a screw hole. Every time somebody reattaches something to the door with those woodscrews they are going to try to tighten that screw and over time that will tear the fibers of the wood out until there’s nothing left in the hole and the screw will fall out when you shut the door with any force. The situation is even worse now that everybody has impact drivers.

Oval head on top and round or button head on bottom. Use the round head for when the hole it will go in is NOT countersunk, a countersunk screw on a hole that isn’t countersunk looks stupid and is weaker.

You can figure out the maximum length of screw for your door by taking a very small diameter drill bit and drilling the center of the hole through all of the wood but not through the other side of the door. Stop when you hit the metal of the lock which will be obvious. Now stick a needle or paperclip in the hole to find out how deep it will go. That is the max length of the screw in the wood you can use. You can add the depth of the hardware mounted with the screw on the door’s surface. So for example, if your hole is 3/4″ and the rose or eschutcheon is 1/8″, you would use a 7/8″ screw although a 3/4″ would be a better choice, it’s horrible to bottom out before the thing you’re screwing in is snug on the door. If you only need four screws get both, they’re only $0.50 each or so.

Try to find aged bronze or antique brass or oil rubbed bronze finish to match your old lock’s patina. Bright brass will look weird and then will rust and look weirder.

Here are some links to places to buy these screws…

Fair Winds Fasteners: Make specialty screws for boats. They take their screws very seriously!

House of Antique Hardware: Maybe the best selection of faux antique hardware of reasonable quality. They have a great selection of replacement screws in many different styles and finishes! This is probably the easiest way to deal with your missing screw issues. These screws are solid brass so correct for the period.

Tacoma Screw: My favorite source for fasteners in the world is Tacoma Screw, who have every kind of strange fastener available often in store. They have a helpful staff and a dog friendly store policy. It appears that they don’t have oil rubbed bronze slotted screws but they can order anything you want and know how to find it. They got me countersunk head pop rivets which is the only fastener aside from slotted oil rubbed bronze finish screws I’ve found they don’t have in stock.

Back to the issue of screws falling out of the door. The diameter of the hole in your door hardware limits the diameter of the screw and the depth of the hole is also a limitation. If there is no wood left behind the hole you can either rotate the rose to a new position and drill new pilot holes or you can fix the hole with something. Please don’t widen the hole in your door hardware. Please don’t use superglue on the screw. Please don’t drill a pilot hole into the mortise cassette. Only pain lies ahead if you go this route.

There are many ways to fix the existing hole. You can drill the hole larger and glue a piece of wood into the hole and screw into that, you can use Woodmate’s Mr. Grip to add material to the hole (be careful, the sharp perforated metal will cut your fingers easily), you can jam a lot of toothpicks into the hole or you can fill with plastic wood and redrill the holes. Another cool option is threaded inserts for wood but these will require getting machine screws of the proper finish and is a whole new can of worms. You would have to order countersunk slotted machine screws in the appropriate finish, threadpitch matching the insert, length and diameter. I have had really good results with threaded inserts for wood. For even better holding power look for tee nuts. They are threaded inserts with additional teeth to prevent unwanted rotation after install. For more information about the difference between the two look here.

Threaded Inserts
Tee Nuts

The blessing of IC cores

Sometimes I get called out to rekey a commercial building (less frequently it’s a restaurant, apartment building or house) that has special locks using SFIC cores. They look like little figure eight lock cylinders and sometimes they say BEST, Arrow, or Falcon on them just above where you stick your key. The customer usually looks disappointed when they hear that it will cost more than regular locks to rekey but these locks provide a lot of benefits. Read on to hear about why you should be happy to have these.

IC cores are better than normal locks because:

  • They allow the client to change out the locks themselves immediately without any tools
  • It’s difficult to make unauthorized copies
  • IC cores are a standardized format that work with lots of hardware
  • The keys look different than house keys

IC cores are worse than normal locks because:

  • Without the control key you can’t remove the core easily. Only highly organized people can produce the control key, most don’t even know what the control key is
  • IC cores are admittedly finicky. The keys are difficult to copy accurately
  • The pins are smaller and wear down more easily
  • If people try to pull the door open with the key they can ruin any lock including SFIC locks which are more difficult to fix

IC stands for interchangeable. An important distinction here is that we’re talking about SFIC, the SF standing for small format, which is the most common format by far. This is different than proprietary removable cores manufactured by different companies.

When it’s time to rekey you start thinking about how late you’ll have to stay there until the locksmith can arrive. They’ll probably charge you a lot of money to come out and do this after hours but it has to be done. All of these problems can be sidestepped by the person with a spare set of ic cores ready to go. This person need only get out their control key, remove all of the sfic lock cores with it, and then install the replacement cores with a control key, either the same or a different one. It will take them longer to distribute the new keys to employees than it will to replace the cores in most cases.

Of course after replacing the cores you will be concerned about who has the new keys and whether or not they can make unauthorized copies of the key to give to criminals for an inside job, for example. It would be best if the keys couldn’t be copied and there are restricted keyways available for SFIC but they do cost more. The good news is that most hardware stores aren’t able to effectively copy sfic keys which have lower tolerances than typical pin tumbler keys. Even many locksmiths don’t stock all of the keyways and would usually be unwilling to copy the keys if they are labeled Do Not Duplicate though this isn’t a legal restriction. It is possible that a determined person could get the blanks online and make a duplicate with a lot of careful filing or the use of a cnc or milling machine but now we’re probably talking about less than one tenth of one percent of the population. Most best keys won’t be copied without authorization.

SFIC cores and their housings are versatile, used in cabinet locks, padlocks, deadbolts, knobs and levers among many more. Normally any brand will work with any other brand with limitations. A generic SFIC housing will work with nearly any SFIC core in my experience. If you have commercial hardware you don’t necessarily have to replace your lock to use them either. Commercial hardware usually allows you to use replacement cylinders including SFIC cores.

SFIC cores are usually more difficult to pick and drill than the equivalent hardware. It also takes a lot more work to take an SFIC cylinder apart and reverse engineer the master key used to operate all the locks, which is different than the control key used to remove the cores from the locks. In my experience many locksmiths can’t do this, though I do provide this service.

On to the bad: IC cores require the use of a control key to insert or remove them. This has frequently been lost or was never given to the customer by the last locksmith in the first place because of the expectation that it would be lost anyway or that they want the customer to call them in the future in a form of vendor lock-in. Some locksmiths are reluctant to give this key to the customer because they use the same key for all of their customers out of laziness and should never be done because if the key falls into the wrong hands many other buildings are vulnerable to unauthorized entry. In the event that the control key is missing the cores will need to be drilled out or removed with lockpicks or the control key will have to be derived by carefully measuring the pins in a core that was removed to get the rest of them out.

The same thing that makes these locks more difficult to pick makes them more difficult to copy keys for. The tight tolerances will ensure that only those with well calibrated machines and the right blanks will be able to copy the key. It is sometimes difficult to find anybody with the ability to accurately copy these keys, even many locksmiths don’t do a good job copying them. It’s best to ask for extra keys from whoever sells the originals to you to avoid this problem unless you already found a good locksmith like me.

These locks can wear down if used frequently. If used on the front door of a large building the pins will get worn down and everybody’s key will stop working. They will wear down even faster if people try to pull the door open with their keys. Fortunately SFIC keys usually have small heads meaning there is less material to apply torque to or pull a heavy door open with. People will still surprise you, there are buildings that have me replace the core on the front door a few times a year because of this even after putting signs on the door asking residents not to pull the door open with their keys.

In the end analysis if you have SFIC locks you should make the most of them. Make sure you keep the control key somewhere safe and make a copy of it before you need one. To take full advantage of their benefits have a full set of replacement cores prepared along with all the keys you will need beforehand so that you can deploy the keys and replace the cores at a moment’s notice. At the very least have enough replacement cores for all exterior doors.

Once your crisis is averted, take the old cores to your favorite locksmith and have them rekey the cores to a new key. In this way you’ll be ready for the next time and save money on the locksmith’s trip charge to your location.

This is in contrast to the dumpster fire that it usually is where you realize that you have to stay until 8 pm until the locksmith can arrive, you can’t find the control key so must pay for a new one or for the cores to get drilled out, you’re getting charged afterhours rates, it takes hours and you don’t get home until midnight. Worst case scenario, all you could get was an emergency locksmith who doesn’t know how to deal with SFIC cores and just replaces them all with cheap locks at a premium and then takes your expensive hardware with them.

Don’t be caught in the dumpster fire. If you are one of the people with a control key and want replacement cores for that emergency you know is going to happen someday or just want to change your locks after ten years of employees coming in and out for the sake of prudence let me know. I can sell you a bunch of cores keyed to your current control key or give you a new control key along with new operating keys.

If you don’t have a control key consider having me come out and make one before you need one. I can sell you new cores at that time and it will be cheaper than having me make or rekey cores after hours.

How safe are safes?

It isn’t often that news about safes and safe locks hits the mainstream. Recently it came out that Liberty Safe had provided a factory code to the FBI to open up a gun safe owned by one of the accused in the January 6th imbroglio.; not with a court order but with a search warrant. This is upsetting to people for two reasons, number one they didn’t know that there was any such thing as a factory override code and two because they think the manufacturer shouldn’t give out these codes, much less have a database of these codes.

Here is a photoshopped image attempting to conflate the Liberty Safe override scandal with the Bud Light endorsement of a trans activist and hoping for similar fallout to Budweiser losing huge amounts of money due to boycott.

Here’s possibly an upsetting fact for you: most safe manufacturers have factory installed override codes for their safes. I as a registered safe tech can call many of these manufacturers and for free or a small fee they will give me a factory unlock or reset code! Liberty Safe is not the only one maintaining and giving out codes to authorities with legal requests. It’s actually an industry standard! If you register your safe with the manufacturer they will probably give you such codes as well in your time of need. They have these not for the FBI but primarily for you when you get locked out.

Those of you with privacy concerns, dislike of government overreach, and also maybe those of you with illegal/quasilegal stuff in your safes may be asking yourselves what you can do to actually secure your safe from an evil locksmith or the FBI/ATF/whatever and the factory codes they can get from the safe lock manufacturer.

Following is information that, if you use it, will all be your own responsibility. I accept no responsibility for the consequences of anything you do. The following should be thought of only as a series of thought experiments.

The answer is that first, if your safe lock has these codes you should figure out how to erase them or buy an aftermarket safe lock and install it yourself and don’t register it. Then remove any identifying stickers from the safe keypad. These are used legitimately by people like me to open safes without any drilling. If you do so, it may void warranties and cost you more down the road if you lose the combination or there’s some glitch with an electronic safe lock. Be careful of what lock you get, a cheap one might be vulnerable to software developed that can open many electronic safe locks in minutes by bruteforcing the combination.

Better yet, if you want to be certain that nobody else can get into your safe buy a mechanical safe lock. There will only be one combination that you yourself can change. That of course doesn’t prevent automated safe dialers or people knowledgeable about how to do so from opening your safe. As an aside, mechanical safe locks are much more reliable than electronic ones. Despite lacking lots of the whiz-bang features of the battery powered ones, mechanical safe locks last for decades. Some are still going after a century. That just isn’t going to happen with the slapdash soldering and incomplete seals put over circuitboards in today’s manufacturing world. Something will fail. Even circuitboards made to go into space that are examined for every possible failure still fail sometimes. Lowest common denominator pricing guarantees that the failsafes demanded by the likes of NASA won’t make it to your safe lock which will likely fail in ten years or less depending on wear.

This fiasco has been a long time coming. Safe manufacturers have been playing with fire maintaining databases of key overrides. In the software industry we’ve seen time and again how social manipulation and network intrusion from hackers has yielded entire databases of customer credit card information before. How likely is it that safe manufacturers are using modern best practices to secure these override codes like salting, air gapping the computers with the database, etc? Or one rogue employee dipping his dirty mitts into the private database as seen with Twitter and Dreamhost in the past.

I have the ability to open safes without the override codes so it isn’t the end of the world for me if the safe manufacturers stop maintaining these databases. Of course it would make life harder and the customer would end up paying a lot more for an opening, but reading the fallout from this scandal it seems like there is a high demand for a safe manufacturer that doesn’t maintain a database of override codes. If you’re trying to lock the world out from your safe maybe you should demand that nobody can open the safe but you.

As long as you know about the factory overrides, people should make informed decisions about what they put in their safe based on what methods are available to open the safe.

Safes should just work

I got called out to fix a safe last week. Normally this wouldn’t be newsworthy but this time it was because I was the second safe technician to show up that day. The first one told the customer that they must continue hitting the safe door with a hammer to close it or get it open. They also said that the fix was to buy a new safe even though the problematic one was only a few months old.

The manager on duty told me that my help probably wasn’t necessary, somebody had already come by earlier who instructed them to just hit the safe door with a hammer to both open and close it but when I passed on what the previous tech told the customer, the NSP asked me to check the safe. Turns out the NSP told the last guy to cancel and called me instead, but the last guy came out anyway. I wonder what kind of silliness the last guy committed before?

So I go take a look at the safe and immediately see a small screw wedged into the frame, just where the door should go when closed! Surprise surprise, the safe worked like new without an obstruction.

I don’t know what the moral of the story is, I guess it is that there are people who think they know what they’re doing who actually don’t. It’s experiences like these that make me question what dentists and auto mechanics are telling me. Did I get a good one or a bad one?

New developments in locks and technology

There has been proof of concept attacks to take control of vehicles by getting access to the can bus but this is an interesting sign that the criminal underworld has begun distributing a tool for stealing cars in a way that bypasses the ECU and immobilizer by directly accessing the car’s local network, as it were. Essentially car thieves buy an object that looks like a jbl bluetooth stereo and bust your headlight off and attach the fake bluetooth speaker to the wires going to the headlight. There’s a chip in the device that automatically unlocks the door and starts the car.

More security news: As I mentioned in other posts lockpicking is becoming an actual problem in Seattle. Either the criminals got smarter or they got more desperate. Lockpicks are being recovered at crime scenes and today I came to a house whose owner sweared he had locked his schlage deadbolt before leaving but found his house had been rifled through after returning from his vacation. Normally I assume that people just forgot to lock their doors in this situation but I rekeyed the locks to make the guy feel safe and noticed when I took the deadbolt cylinder apart, there were scratches on the tailpiece. This is a telltale sign of lockpicking since afactory sc1 key won’t touch the tailpiece of an sc1 original cylinder, much less make a straight scratch mark. As a result I can drop the preamble to my sales pitch for high security locks: they are not snake oil in seattle for average homeowners.

Another development is that Napco’s Alarm Lock is no longer offering ANY locks for thick doors. This is going to be a major issue for people who installed a dl2800 on a two and a half inch door a year ago and have a warranty issue. I’m kind of in this boat right now. If you have a thick door chassis for an alarm lock dl2800 call this guy.