Sunday, 27 January 2013

Digital Keys solving real world problems...and helping you sleep better

Have you ever been locked out of your house, your office or your hotel room? Did it make you feel anxious or frustrated or embarrassed? Lockouts are a problem from time to time. Also carrying around a set of bulky keys can also be a bit of a nuisance. But what is a real, serious, ongoing problem right now are the insecurities and costs associated with the existing access control systems currently available in the market place.

For starters take the metal keys access control system. In the late nineteen eighties and early nineteen nineties a number of hotel and motel chains in the USA were sued for millions of dollars by their guests because of the insecurities of metal keys. Guests were being assaulted in their rooms and having their belongings stolen as people were cutting extra copies of metal keys and letting themselves into rooms at anytime. See this 1992 New York Times article for example. And this is still a serious problem today.

The hotel industry responded to this ‘metal key problem’ in the nineties, and over the next decade, tens of millions of mag-stripe keycard systems were installed across the planet. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, 83 percent of hotels have electronic locks and a majority of these use magnetic swipe-card technology(NY Times 2005)

Assaults and robberies in Hotel Rooms - a little bit of history repeating

Twenty years later, after all those attacks and court cases resulting from the metal keys insecurities, we are seeing the same problems with the keycards as we saw with the metal keys. In July 2012, a hacker demonstrated on the Internet and at a conference, how easy it is to build a master key with a marker pen (and $50 worth of electronics) to open over 4 million keycard locks across the planet. And once again guests are being attacked in their rooms and having their belongings stolen. The previous article from 2005 demonstrated that the security of the mag-stripe keycards is not just a recent phenomenon, but they have been in question for a number of years now.  

The smartcard access control systems are undoubtedly more secure then their predecessors the mag stripes and the metal keys. Referring again to the 2005 NY times article, you can see that some hotels back then were already installing smartcard access control systems in response to the insecurities of mag-stripe systems. But we haven't really seen any mass adoption of these smartcard systems yet. That's because the big problem with them is that they are so expensive and difficult to install.  Typically smartcard systems can cost between $1200-$2500 per door to install. The smartcard systems usually have to be all hard wired together and linked to a central controller, an onsite PC, mains power, and readers.  Sometimes it could take days to install smartcard systems on two or more doors. Of course the last thing hotels want are disruptions to their business, and having to close for weeks to have their buildings re-wired.

Digital keys are the solution

The solution to the inconvenient, insecure, expensive and difficult to install access control systems currently available in the marketplace is 'digital keys'. 

Digital keys can be installed in minutes by anyone. They do not require any supporting network infrastructure, and are standalone and battery powered  (which typically lasts up to 2 years). 

Digital keys are more secure than their predecessors - for starters if you lose your phone, then you are probably going to report it as stolen a lot quicker than if you lost your smartcard or keycard. And the hotel could immediately switch off your access rights in case somebody finds your phone and tries to open your hotel door.

In addition, digital keys can have extra levels of verification/authentication built into them, just like bank ATM’s and bankcards. For example you can set a passcode on the app on the smartphone, which you need to enter to be able to present to the door to open with NFC. So if you lose your phone, somebody won’t be able to simply present your phone to the lock/reader to open the door - they will also need to know your passcode that only you know.  

You can also set a PIN code on the lock too if desired for that extra level of security. This PIN code on the door could also be set up as a back-up if you lose your phone(or if you're battery dies). You can set this PIN code to a time-sensitive 3-5 digit number that you won’t forget. You can also set up the digital keys to use either one or all of these entry methods.  Finally digital keys can be installed for up to one tenth of the price of smartcard systems, and there is no ongoing maintenance costs.

Recently a number of companies from many different industries and backgrounds have announced their involvement in trials of digital keys, and their plans to begin rolling out digital keys across the globe.  See our earlier blog (trials of digital keys to see more details).  You can use digital keys in offices, hotel rooms, your house, bike lockers, cabinets, and anywhere where you need to secure a space and provide access to it.

Perfect for Airbnb

Digital keys are perfect is you want to rent out your house on Airbnb, because you don’t have to be worried about giving out copies of your metal keys to total strangers who can get copies cut at anytime and let themselves into your house at anytime in the future.  

For under a couple of hundred dollars you can buy a digital keys lock or reader, easily install it on your front door yourself in minutes(you don't need a locksmith with some models), download the digital keys app, and within minutes your ready to start giving out time-sensitive digital keys to anyone at anytime via SMS, email or NFC. You can use the digital keys app to set the digital keys to only work for one hour, one day, one week, one month or anytime and date you choose.

If you would like to pre-order a digital keys lock or reader please leave us a comment below.

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