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Access Control

Somebody eyes Your Key!

The best way to avoid unauthorized key procurement is to specify a patented lock system offering a key registration scheme.

There is, of course, a vast range of locks available on the market today, from tamper resistant locks that can be opened by the simplest of all keys, through highly sophisticated mechanical systems to extremely complex electronic systems.  Key or microchip, choosing which will best suit a particular application, can seem a daunting task. This article concentrates on the types of mechanical locks most commonly specified for industrial applications.  A mechanical lock is usually the least expensive, easiest to fit and most convenient way of restricting entry to authorized people only.  There is an enormous range of industrial locks, including camlocks, pushlocks, T-handles with locking inserts, switchlocks, safety interlock systems and padlocks.  Whats more, the range is constantly changing because manufacturers have to remain responsive to new threats from criminals as these develop.  So how do you choose which lock to use?  The first and most important step is to review the risk factors involved, i.e., to assess the types of attack that the equipment to be protected might be subject to, and then select a lock that will withstand such attacks.


By Martin McCaffrey





Generally, unsupervised and partially supervised locations will require a higher level of security than those monitored constantly.  In high risk applications the lock should delay entry to the point where the break-in time is so long that the assailant will either be discovered or give-up and try elsewhere.  Normally, the lock should be at least as strong as the equipment to which it is fitted.

Among the many locks available on the market are types that are drill, pick, and even chewing gum and superglue resistant.




A lock should be positioned in such a way as to reduce the chances of attack as much as possible, particularly in high-risk applications.  There can be many factors to take into account and these should be considered at the beginning of a project.  For example, where the lock will be subject to the weather or exposed to harsh environments, installing locks having an IP65 accreditation should be a consideration.  For those not familiar with the term IP rating, it is a method of certificating the level of resistance against the ingress of moisture and other foreign bodies.

All too often a lock manufacturer is not approached until the project is just about finalized!  Insufficient thought is given to achieving effective security thus limiting the choice of product to what can be fitted rather than what would be best for the job.  Such situations often mean that finding an expedient solution is very difficult.  Making contact and liaising with a supplier at an early stage should ensure that no installation problems are encountered and that a suitable lock from a standard range can be fitted.




A thief who doesnt wish to risk being caught drilling, sawing, filing or hammering a lock may opt instead to try to pick it.  The tools to do this, together with instructions, are now easily available to anyone via the Internet.  This is why it pays to fit good quality locks with a high degree of pick resistance.




Where any one of a number of installation staff, service engineers or other personnel will require access, the lock may need to be keyed alike or keyed to pass in order to obviate the need for staff to carry a large bunch of keys from site to site.

You may also wish to consider a changeable combination system that allows the locks to be re-programmed in the event of loss or theft of a key, or perhaps changes in personnel.  Where several groups of personnel will each require access to one lock or group of locks and a supervisor or senior manager will also wish to be able to open any lock within the set or suite, the solution is a master key system. 




If you talk to most people about security they will admit that while they may spend some time choosing the lock for a particular task, they rarely if ever give any thought to the keys that operate it.  Yet in todays security conscious world that can be a mistake.  Keys are a vital part of any locking system and can significantly affect the overall security, especially as theft using illicit duplicate keys has grown rapidly in recent years.

There are generally two types of key in use in industrial locks: flat keys for disc tumbler locks and tubular keys for radial pin tumbler locks, although there are many manufacturers variants available.  One of the factors determining the level of security available from each type is the quantity of key combinations (or differs) available.  Typically, the radial type has a higher number of combinations, so offers higher security than an equivalent flat key lock.  In low-security locks there may only be a few hundred key differs, whereas this total can be increased to millions in high-security types.  A larger number of combinations allows, for instance, more specific key codes, or sets of codes, to be allocated to particular users to ensure that no two locks with the same key combination are ever produced.

Disc tumbler keys may be single or double entry types.  A double entry key has cuts (or bitting) on both edges and can usually be inserted into the lock either way up.  This is often, though not always, for convenience, rather than an indication of a higher security product.  However, some higher security disc tumbler locks use a double bitted key to incorporate two opposing sets of tumblers and achieve a greater number of combinations and more resistance to picking.  Key security depends largely upon how easily duplicate keys can be obtained and if a lock has a large number of key differs, and uses a key with an unusual or patented profile requiring special blanks and/or key machines, the level of security provided will be higher. 




Unless keys are of a patented design, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to sustain their security as, in effect, once taken off site, even legitimately, many can be quickly and easily duplicated in key cutting outlets, without any authorization.

Only designs with a valid patent can provide maximum protection against unauthorized key duplication, as it is illegal for anyone other than the manufacturer to produce the locks, duplicate keys or issue key blanks for cutting extra keys.  Yes, such systems cost slightly more but dont overlook that when unauthorized keys are obtained, the security of many applications may be compromised and the cost of replacing all the locks may be vastly more -- assuming you manage to do this before the thieves get to them.  The expense can easily run into thousands of pounds.




Even keys to patented systems can end up in the wrong hands.  Lock makers may treat a written order for additional keys on official headed stationery as bona fide.  At that stage they have no way of knowing that the person placing the order is not entitled to do so.  The best way to avoid unauthorized key procurement is to specify a patented lock system offering a key registration scheme.  This procedure ensures that particular key combination(s) are exclusive to the purchaser or user of the locks and that additional locks and keys are only issued on their authority.

Key registration involves the lock manufacturer recording the signature of one or more persons designated by the purchaser as authorized to order locks and keys.  This is used to validate all future orders.  Only those bearing the correct signature(s) are accepted.  You then have the reassurance that strict procedures are in place for issuing keys, greatly reducing the possibility of these falling into the wrong hands.  So when buying locks, be sure to ask about the availability of key registration.


Martin McCaffrey is Technical Director of Camlock Systems (


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