What Is a High Security Lock?

People who have shopped for locks have probably come across ads or have listened to a sales pitch which has described a particular lock as being “High security”.  Just what makes a particular lock “High security”?

A high security lock starts with the conception of a unique and original lock and key design, or the improvement of an existing design.  This design must file for a patent.  The design must incorporate features that make manipulation of the lock cylinder more difficult, conforming to a higher rating standard.  What do we mean by “Manipulation”? Basically, techniques such as picking, bumping, impressioning, to name a few.  Additionally, the materials used in the design and manufacture must be of superior strength and quality to be able to withstand physical attack. Some examples of physical attacks include drilling, prying, and kicking.  Subsequently, the new design is submitted to an independent testing authority. 

In North America new lock mechanisms are tested by the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA), which is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Locks can also be tested by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Underwriters Laboratories’ UL 437 and ANSI/BHMA  A156.30 conducts testing to rate a locks resistance to covert and forced entry, but neither standard actually defines what a “High security lock” is.  

ANSI/BHMA A156.30 references high security standards and does conduct tests to evaluate high security locks under the categories of Key Control, Destructive Tests (I.e. Drilling the cylinder), and Surreptitious Tests (I.e. Picking).  These various tests are measured against a “High security” standard.  These standards are based upon the training level of the tester, the tools used by the tester, and are to be conducted within a given amount of time.  These standards must be met in order to receive a certification. Once certified, other safeguards, such as in process auditing, exist to ensure continued quality compliance.  

Neither UL 437 or ANSI/BHMA A156.30 covers all forms of threats, even common ones, such as bumping.  There are, however, independent organizations and individuals, some non profit, that conduct their own testing and evaluation of security hardware.  These inquisitive hardware experts and sportlock enthusiasts sometimes expose deficiencies in various security hardware products, especially locks that are advertised as being “High security”.  If a problem or weakness is exposed, these issues are reported to the manufacturers so that they may be fixed, or reported through print and online media sources.

Once a patented high security lock and key system reaches the market, strict mechanisms are in place to control the distribution of the patented key.  A select number of authorized dealers (Locksmiths) are permitted to sell this lock and key to their customers.

(Note-There are levels of high security key control that only allow key copies to be made by the factory).

When a new customer purchases a high security lock system they are automatically registered.  When a new customer is registered, their identifying information is recorded, this usually includes a sample of their signature (Signature card).  The cuts that are chosen for each individual customer’s key are unique and are also recorded.  Only the customer or those pre-authorized by the customer, are permitted to have additional key copies made.  The total number of keys in circulation are documented.

The ultimate objective of a high security lock is to make a physical attack of the mechanism as difficult and time consuming as possible, while restricting access to key copies. These types of locks can be a valuable component of any residential or commercial security plan.  


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