Why Reliability is Your Keyless Access Control Program’s Most Important KPI

Keyless access control systems are becoming more common, especially to safeguard critical infrastructure and remote sites. While there are a number of benefits to going keyless, there is always a risk of low adoption. In our experience, the reliability of a solution, whether actual or perceived, is the most significant factor in a successful implementation. 

In short: if the people using electronic keys aren’t able to successfully open what they need to open, it threatens the adoption of a chosen solution. And without widespread adoption, companies lose out on the benefits of implementing a keyless solution, like cost savings, identity control, scalability, and operational insights.  

So, what does reliability mean? 

Reliability means that locks open when a user tries to open them. It’s that simple. Or is it? 

All locking systems have a mechanical element to them, and all mechanical elements are prone to failures. Rust, wear and tear, freezing, and other extreme conditions can all lead to mechanical failure. Electronic elements are also prone to failure. Sometimes components get lost, sometimes devices break, sometimes batteries die. And when these elements fail, the lock is considered less reliable. 

How can reliability be achieved? 

There are two approaches to achieving reliability in opening a lock: 

  1. Precision manufacturing and design for high-reliability use in rough environments 

Locks need to be able to stand up to extreme conditions—environmental, or otherwise. Moisture, temperature, extreme weather, and other environmental conditions can all affect the performance of a lock over time. And people will try to break into whatever is being secured. Locks need to be designed and manufactured to stand up under almost any condition, over and over, without issue. 

  1. Reducing the number of points of failure 

This is where electronic key systems have traditionally had fundamental challenges. Electronic keys can fail. Batteries run out of juice, people drop them or otherwise damage them, or people lose them. Electronic key chargers can fail. Electronic key data relays and local servers can fail. The electronic lock itself, like a cylinder or padlocks, can fail. The central management system can fail. And when they do (because they will), it’s frustrating and inconvenient for the person trying to open the lock. 

That’s a lot of failure. Is there any hope? 

Yes! A good keyless system eliminates many of the electronic points of failure above, reducing opportunities for unsuccessful opens. Yes, electronic locks can fail. Yes, smartphones can fail. (Even though most people can’t even remember a time their smartphone spontaneously failed, a good keyless system includes a failsafe). Yes, the software can experience temporary outages. But these are all far less likely than the key itself causing a problem. 

When the electronic key is the weak point in an electronic access control system, it’s time to consider going keyless, because it means your system isn’t reliable.  
 
Reliability means that key management is always available. 

In order to deliver a truly reliable keyless access control system, providers must invest in modern, high-reliability, self-healing, self-monitoring cloud server architectures.  

When an access management service relies on one computer, (whether it’s on-premises or cloud-based), this system does not deliver high-reliability. Hardware faults inevitably happen to all hardware at one point or another. Reliability is all about having redundancy and monitoring to prevent a single failure from taking out a system. Reliability is all about enabling 9,999 successful accesses out of 10,000 attempts, and a >99.9% uptime on admin service (which are, coincidentally, Teleporte’s most recent stats). 

The Consequences of Unreliable Systems

Key management system reliability is more important than it may sound at first pass. If it’s just a question of the admin dashboard at the NOC being unavailable on rare occasions for a time, this is easy to trivialize. But most access control systems are integrated into workflow automations. Having the access control automations stop can bring an entire operation to a halt. 

And don’t underestimate the impact that unreliable systems have on the people that use them. To realize the many benefits of keyless access control, the system must be used. People will not embrace a system that makes their jobs more difficult. Much in the same way that people resist corporate software that doesn’t meet their needs, and compensate with shadow IT, your employees will find a way around a system that they can’t count on. The best way to ensure adoption of a keyless access control solution is to provide a reliable system that helps people do their jobs, instead of hindering it.  

We’ve worked with a number of organizations to help maximize adoption of reliable keyless solutions, and we’ve come up with a pretty great list of dos and don’ts. If you’d like to learn more about whether Teleporte is right for you, get in touch

Keyless Padlocks in Winter

Winter is hard on padlocks. We know. We live in Canada. Cold can make oil sticky. Freezing rain and a hard frost can seal moving parts. Here are some things you should be considering when deploying keyless padlocks in a winter climate.

Battery Types

Most battery types (and all rechargeable types we know of) have significantly shorter battery life as temperatures drop below freezing. A typical rechargeable battery will not only lose charge in the cold, but will not recharge well in the cold either. Batteries that can’t perform in the cold will leave you locked out in the cold.

When a battery has charge, it needs to be designed for the cold to deliver its rated current in the cold. This is why automotive batteries in cold climates advertise Cold Cranking Amps. Lower current leads to less powerful or slower internal motor operation. This may result in a lock that does not open or close as it was designed to do.

The solution is simple. Ensure a battery is designed to work in the cold for reliable winter performance operation.

Sera4’s AP3 padlock uses replaceable Lithium Thionyl Chloride batteries. These military-grade batteries are formulated to perform similarly in the coldest and hottest natural temperatures on Earth.  In the event that the battery is out of power after a time (this happens to every battery), the micro-USB port is convenient and accessible and facilitates access. An added bonus is that maintenance is a lot faster on a replaceable battery than with a rechargeable padlock. We can also deliver our products will full charge and ready-to-deploy, where rechargeable batteries need to ship at 30% charge.

Electronics

Electronics used outdoors in the winter must be designed and qualified for reliable use in cold temperatures. Consider that most consumer electronics in winter climates is still consistently used above the freezing point. Electronics require additional design and quality considerations to function reliably in deep cold. Designing electronics for the cold follows well-known quality standards (such as AEC-Q100), requiring specific attention during product development. We don’t expect consumer-grade electronics to consistently work outside in the dead of winter.

Ice Buildup

You should be concerned about ice buildup on padlocks in the winter. Humidity or water can get into parts of a lock and then freeze. Once there is solid ice around a mechanism that needs to move to open or close, the best thing to do is to melt the ice.  This is obviously inconvenient. We recommend focusing on simple installation tricks that will keep precipitation off the padlock in the first place.

AP3 is IP66-certified, so it will be fine to be left out for years in the rain. In winter climates, we recommend installing a simple vinyl flap over top of the padlock as shown below. This simple solution has proven in our tests to be more effective than more complicated approaches. 

In case you do find a padlock with significant ice deposits, try to resist the urge to hit at it with a hammer to chip away at accumulated ice. This usually only removes superficial ice and can result in surface/finish damage to the padlock body or shackle. Instead, try pressing the shackle deeper into the lock body. This will often dislodge stuck compoenents. Another smart option is to use a lock de-icer fluid. These bottles are small, inexpensive and effective.

Don’t let winter get between you and the benefits of going keyless. With the right products and a little bit of care during installation and operation, winter won’t be an issue. Feel free to talk to us if you have any questions about padlocks in winter weather.

Hidden Access Control: Security through Obscurity

Sometimes the best way to protect something is to hide it.

To some people, a keyhole or a padlock or a handle on something will act as a public notice that reads Valuables Inside. Those who are motivated to steal notice these signals. And when they’re identified by those people, they can tell the story about how to break them at a glance.

With keyless access, you can design a more secure system to protect your assets with a fully hidden mechanism. Imagine how the hood of your car opens, and you’ll have a good idea of what we mean. With a Sera4 Lock Controller, you can design a door, a panel or other secure hinged compartment that pops open by the touch of a smartphone. A door like this is more secure because it’s more hidden. It won’t have a handle, a keyhole, a padlock or other signals that it opens. And even when somebody might want to break in, it’s not clear where or how to start an attack.

Vertical Infrastructure: AX5 controlling access on a smart light pole.

5G demands denser networks in urban areas. This means that communications equipment is being installed in places like fake trees, park benches and lamp posts. These are places where people aren’t expecting to find anything valuable, and keeping access points obscure keeps them out of sight and out of mind. The only way to tell that there is an access point is to check with the Teleporte app on your phone.

Reliability

In the unfortunate event of a system failure, a door without a handle can be a difficult thing to open. The most common type of failure is a power failure: dead batteries. This is where our Access Pad can help. It provides a power connector (for a common 9V battery) to conveniently and discreetly power a dead system to get it open. In the rare case of a radio or app incompatibility, the Access Pad enables our Failsafe Unlock feature.

Sera4 Access Pad

With the latest technology, access points can be designed to be more secure and look better at the same time.

Please reach out to us. Each application is a little bit unique. We’d love to discuss how we can help conceal your access points.

How Teleporte achieves Scale, Security & Reliability

Our own Jeff Klink is interviewed by SiliconAngle at Kubecon 2020 and authored an article in InformationAge, sharing how Teleporte Cloud is designed for scale, security and reliability. Both pieces focus on Sera4’s leading transformation into a distributed microservices cloud architecture, with some recommendations for others who want to follow us.

Failsafe Unlock Explained

The Teleporte keyless access control system uses digital certificates as keys and controlled through a mobile phone application.  We have proven this method to be secure, scalable and reliable. Teleporte works on practically all Android and iOS devices (over 700 models in use and counting), so we ensure great user adoption. Users access the vast majority of our locks in this way.

With the recent launch of Teleporte server 3.4, we introduced the Failsafe Unlock feature. With this, you can still get into your locks in the event your smartphone isn’t working; whether the phone’s battery is dead at the end of a long working day or somehow your phone is damaged and no longer functions. The Failsafe Unlock feature provides you with a 4-digit flash pattern that you replicate by holding the button on the lock or with our Access Pad. Entering the valid code will grant access to the lock.

How Failsafe Unlock works as a user.

Failsafe Unlock is even easier to use from the administrator’s side. The administrator will tell the user the code and record who they gave it to in the admin panel. This way, Teleporte system maintains the access logs. The code is unique to each lock and is only valid for a few hours. Failsafe Unlock is now available to all Teleporte Enterprise subscribers.

With this innovation, we are enabling the transition to digital access control by eliminating the last of the reservations for going keyless. For more information, contact us or click here for more product information.

Smart tech is the smart choice so long as it’s well-engineered

A few weeks ago, we learned about Amazon’s ambitious plans for Amazon Key. Amazon Key is a solution that allows Amazon delivery people to leave packages inside the home rather than outside the door. They do this by converting traditional door locks to smartlocks, which can be accessed by Amazon when needed. A camera is included to monitor the drop offs. I expect that Amazon has done their market research; They know that some consumers will prefer the risk of giving Amazon access to their home over the risk that packages could go missing. Additionally, the service avoids the inconvenience of having to wait at home for deliveries  This is the same tradeoff between operational efficiency and security that Sera4 solves for industrial infrastructure.

Smartlock security was put to the test at last year’s DEFCON conference, where hackers try to break security. Twelve out of sixteen tested smartlocks were hacked within 15 minutes using simple digital equipment. I had hoped that this would send a message to our industry to take security more seriously. Unfortunately, Amazon’s newly-released smartlock system has already been hacked. Although the current vulnerabilities don’t show how to unlock someone’s house without authorization, the security holes destroy trust in the video surveillance that is a core component of the Amazon Key system. I don’t feel confident to put this on my front door. I doubt anyone wants a lock on their house that let hackers walk in, no matter how “smart” the feature list appears.

Designing secure smartlocks is not easy. It requires both physical security and logical security. People have been designing for physical security for centuries. We’ve largely figured out how to do that. Designing for secure wireless control is a new area, where many designers are still just learning. It’s not surprising that they overlook things.  Security is Sera4’s specialty. Since we don’t aim to get our products in residential front doors, I hope that someone else brings secure residential smartlocks to market soon. If not, adoption is going to be very slow, or we’re going to have a lot of unexpected burglaries in the near future.

Will Your Employees’ Mobile Devices Work With New Smart Locks?

Will your employees’ phones all work with the new Smart Locks you want to buy?

Designing and supporting a wireless application for the many variants of Android is challenging.  Add to this, a plethora of device manufacturers who use a variety of wireless stacks, and you get:          an interoperability nightmare

Just ask Kevo, they support only specific devices from 5 Android device manufacturers.

In today’s day and age, we are subject to traditional hardware makers trying to “tack on” technology (and worse yet — digital security) to their products.

Have you seen the Whirlpool washing machine with Wi-Fi?

Consider that the leaders of tomorrow are the technology companies that live/breathe/understand a complex, mobile, Internet.

Netflix is the tech pioneer changing the landscape of media content production and distribution.

Tesla is the genius changing the landscape of many industries.

Uber — need I say more?

Sera4 is a tech company focusing on the integration of secure high technology into the physical security packages you already use and trust. Turning your traditional padlock, electric strike, or maglock into “Smart Locks” is what we do.  Our application already interoperates with over 300 different mobile device / operating system pairings. We are pairing our technology expertise with the best in physical security — not just to add a cool feature – but to evolve the market.

Why Businesses Need to Retire the Master Key

At Sera4, we make physical assets easily accessible to people who need to get to them, while keeping them safeguarded from others. Many of the companies we help are working to solve a problem with theft and vandalism. I was surprised when I learned that in almost all cases, the majority of theft was from people who were entrusted with a key.

The companies we work with want to protect sensitive points in a network or service. To do this, they build physical walls around these sensitive points and put locks on the doors. Access is given out to the people who help maintain, facilitate, and run these points. This could be a large employee base, or a contractor force.

From here, companies have faced a choice. They can either choose to maintain their security by limiting the number of keys that are distributed, which becomes inefficient in having to pass physical keys, or they make multiple copies of a key.  Most companies opt for speed and efficiency over maximum security. They elect to trust the employees and contractors who have signed contracts, and issue them all keys. In extreme cases, all the locks are keyed to the same cylinder or all combination locks are set to the same sequence.  Thus, the Master Key. While it is a simple and easy solution for access control, the employees and contractors are now aware that their colleagues also have the same keys they do.

A desperate contractor or employee finds courage behind the curtain by anonymity. They reason that they can steal with low risk because they know that when the company discovers a problem, they will hide in a sea of others who are all holding the key that opened the door. And usually, they are right. Add to this that putting something behind lock & key adds to perceived value, and maybe there is more theft with the locks on than with no locks at all.

With smartphone-based access control, anonymity is removed. Anyone who opens a lock is reliably identified by their phone.  This removal of anonymity has been proven to dramatically reduce the occurrence of theft. Since the black market value of the things that are stolen is just pennies on the dollar, I think there is an opportunity here for everyone involved to come out ahead.