What You Should Know About Biometric Locks


Biometric Locks are locks that rely upon physical human traits such as fingerprints to operate the locking mechanism.

Companies such as Biolock sell fingerprint locks starting at $200, and while the fingerprint security is more secure than any key, consumer biometric locks often feature a backup key lock that is less security than your standard Kwikset or Master Lock.

SEE ALSO: How Safe Are Smart Locks? Your Security Questions Answered

Benefits Of Biometric Locks

First and foremost, fingerprint locks are cool. This is the stuff of futuristic secret agent movies, powered by four AA batteries and waiting for you to come home.

But the reason highly classified government agencies have been using biometric identification for years is the sheer uniqueness of your fingerprint. Biolock’s systems feature 500 dot-per-inch (DPI) fingerprint sensors that cannot be fooled even by someone whose fingerprints nearly match your own. No one can copy your fingerprint or steal it from beneath the rock where you keep a spare. Instead, the owner of the “master” fingerprint can grant additional fingerprints access.

Newer models even include deadbolts, which every homeowner should employ on every exterior door.

Insecurity Engineering And Shortcomings

Despite the benefits and security afforded by a fingerprint lock, biometric lock makers have decided to include a failsafe in the form of a traditional mechanical lock and key.

At the 2010 DefCon hacking convention, an experienced team of lock pickers found that the mechanical locks on biometric lock systems tended to be extremely easy to pick. In the case of the Biolock 333, they were able to pick the lock in a matter of seconds using only a paperclip.

In the video, Marc Weber Tobias demonstrates how he would pick the lock, and describes this oversight as a perfect example of “insecurity engineering,” adding that the “lock design is so elementary, frankly it defies belief.” Simply push the paper clip to the back of the lock slot and the mechanism engages, much like the failsafe for the simple interior locks used on home bathrooms and the like.

Consumer biometric technology has improved rapidly over the last decade, but in 2006 Discovery’s popular show MythBusters found a decent handful of ways to trick a biometric scanner. Fortunately, most homeowners need only secure themselves against thieves who select houses at random and not professional thieves determined to grant entry, making fingerprint spoofing a less realistic concern.

SEE ALSO: How Secure Are Hotel Room Locks?

What To Look For And How To Choose

  • Battery life: See what the manufacturer promises for your lock; you don’t want to be changing the batteries every week, especially when you already paid upwards of $200 for installation. Coming home to find that your lock has died equals losing your keys.
  • Backups: If your battery dies or the fingerprint scanner fails for any reason (a rain-induced short circuit, perhaps), consider how you can get in. Most fingerprint locks include a traditional key slot; demand that your lock’s backup keyed entry use the traditional pin-tumbler lock and key, and not a less-secure version like a dimple key.
  • Design, appearance, ease of installation and sliding cover to protect from the elements are the other main factors when choosing a biometric lock.

Browse around Amazon and read reviews of the most popular biometric locks. Most will work well enough, and as mentioned the fingerprint scanner is rarely the problem, but make sure that you do not get fooled into buying a lock known to fail under pressure.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: November 10, 2015

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