Electronic (Digital) Safes
Electronic (Digital) Safes

Technology continues to advance in the field of security. One aspect of this progress is found in electronically locked safes. In contrast to the simplicity of traditional padlocks, electronic locks allow users management of time and allowance for use by others. The ability to use different computerized systems to lock safes has made the combination and mechanical key locks obsolete.

Standard Mechanisms

In general, consumers may choose from many different kinds of electronic safes with different combinations of requirements for access. The most basic model allows access by PIN codes that may be changed by users and administrators. Safes generally also allow multiple users with different PIN codes. A higher stratum of safe quality allows PIN access, but may also require key cards as well. Requiring both access devices enhances security as PIN codes may be illicitly passed to unauthorized users. Also, key cards may be lost or stolen. Combining the two greatly reduces the chance of illicit access.

More Advanced Mechanisms

More recent advances in safe technology include the use of iButtons, portable data storage devices that may be affixed to many different media. Users may access safes with these devices in much the same way as a key card except that the iButton fits a special port that connects to the safe's computer.

Time-Related Mechanisms

Other features include time management. A safe may also allow a time delay that automatically delays the opening of the safe door after inputting a PIN code and/or card. This delay may save lives and valuables as thieves and burglars require short time windows to enter, obtain what they seek, and leave. Time delay dissuades them from attempting robbery. Some safes feature include time locks, in which a safe is automatically programmed to lock at a certain time and time windows, in which the safe automatically locks except for specified periods. Auto-detent systems sound alarms when safes have been left open for more than a specified time and automatically bolt doors shut on closure.

Miscellaneous Mechanisms

Still other more attributes include the control of multiple doors, the ability to issue audits, and sending silent duress alarms. Issuing audits may be especially useful when multiple users have access to a safe. With this feature the safe's computer reports each user's time and date of access.

Addressing Existing Structures

One of the perceived detriments of these systems is the cost and time in retrofitting existing structures. However, computer-managed systems save much time as portable, free-standing locking mechanisms. They can be especially useful for locking doors in older buildings such as schools. The technology is adaptable to many different kinds of access including keypads, iButtons, keycards, proximity sensors, and biometric sensors such as computerized fingerprint registration. Management of these systems is possible through personal computers or personal digital assistants (PDA).

Countermeasures Used Against Safes

Despite the advance in technology for these safes, counter-technology to defeat these systems has also advanced. One common method to open safes is to clandestinely spray surfaces commonly touched by someone with access to a safe with ultraviolet ink. Since the ink is invisible to the naked eye, the user does not realize that he/she is carrying the ink on his/her fingertips. When the user then inputs his PIN code he/she unwittingly leaves fingerprints on the keypad. The thief can then spray black ink on the keypad to reveal the correct keys to punch. For this reason, as mentioned above, key cards are also valuable in combination with PIN codes. Another technique utilizes a computer program that runs number sequences until hitting on right one. Fortunately for most, both the hardware and software required are expensive and are usually worth more than the gains obtained from safe contents. Some thieves also try to use x-ray emitters to gain access to safes. However, some safes feature resistance to x-rays to prevent unauthorized access.