Security, access control and smart locks – what’s safe, what’s the difference and where do we draw the line?

Here, Justin Freeman, technical manager of The Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) – the leading trade association for the locksmithing industry – talks about the difference between security and access control, considering the problem of smart locks and the role they play for both.

Facilities managers have long understood the value and convenience of a good access control system by being able to control the access to certain parts of a building to certain individuals. Access control can start with a very simplistic form of digital code lock (mechanically operated push button locksets) operated by a simple code right the way through to complex internet controlled systems that enable managers to add or delete users from a central location.

Access control can directly link to fire safety and when the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) came into force in 2006, it had a significant impact on facilities managers. The RRO dispensed with the need for a fire officer to certify and audit buildings, with responsibility for complying with the Fire Safety Order resting with ‘the responsible person’. Therefore, if, as a facilities manager, you are named as the person ‘who has control of the premises’, you must ensure compliance with the Fire Safety Order and operate good practice in all aspects of safety and security. A risk assessment must be carried out to make sure access control has the correct fail safe/fail secure operations in place. A professional like an approved MLA member could help to make sure everything is in order.

Facilities managers need to have a good understanding of health and safety requirements including things like escape routes and fire doors that access control will be integral to, so things are easy to get wrong and could well get a little more complicated.

The crossover between security and access control

Access control manufacturers, suppliers and facilities managers have long understood that these products are not primary security products and are there to restrict access (usually used internally within a building, with doors leading to the external of a building being secured by tested security mechanical locks). Access control therefore is not tested to any security or attack standards. People using a facility without the level of knowledge of facility management will assume any door with a lock on it is secure but this is not a problem when used and specified correctly.

The MLA recently exhibited at the Smart Buildings section of UK construction show at the NEC Birmingham and we spoke to lots of facilities managers regarding security, safety and convenience. All of them found the convenience of access control to be vital to the smooth running of their buildings and many were very interested in a smart lock that we had on display.

The benefits and pitfalls of a smart lock

‘We are seeing new technology introduced at a high rate within the UK in the form of smart locks that can be operated by code, tag, swipe card, biometrics and most importantly by smart phone. Facilities managers could see a direct benefit of having security locks on their buildings with the features and benefits of access control and even locks that can talk to things like CCTV, alarms and would ideally like security locks that could even be directly linked to access control and managed in the same way. The high interest in devices that operate heating and lighting via smartphones makes it obvious that people would like to operate their security locks if not remotely, then with their smartphone.

However, the UK has for a long time had excellent security standards for mechanical security including BS 3621, 8621, 10621, BS EN 1303, BS EN 12209 and PAS 24 for complete windows and doors. We can easily test the mechanical strength and capability of the actual lock but at the moment we cannot easily test the security of the ‘electronic key’ (i.e. fob, card, phone etc.) on electronic smart locks. It’s the ‘key’ that has actually become the problem area here as it could be anything from your finger, eye, face, voice, card, tag or phone (and I am sure there will be more) and the device could potentially store security information on a database online.

Industry is working on developing standards that smart locks could be tested to but this technology moves quickly so the truth is – we don’t know how secure these products are at the moment. The unfortunate advice the MLA has to currently give therefore is if you want to use a smart lock on your security door for convenience that’s fine but it must be supported by a tested mechanical security lock to secure the door properly. So smart locks are currently considered as access control and therefore secondary security rather than primary security.’

To find a locksmith in your area visit the user-friendly MLA website at To review a list of independently tested and approved security products visit the Sold Secure website at: Security guidelines for domestic properties can also be downloaded free of charge from


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