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’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.