A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.
Posted On by Ralph Goodman
When a company is the butt of all the jokes, you cannot help but give them some love for all the laughs they bring into the world. There are several brands that the security industry loves to poke fun at. Granted, not every product that all of these companies put out is terrible, but the terrible products certainly outshine the good. The irony of this particular grouping of chortle-worthy security manufacturers is that they are most likely names you know. For the average consumer, these may be the only names they know. You will find products from all of these companies when you are in the lock section of most hardware and big box stores, which is the first indication of quality. But why are these specific companies such black sheep among professionals? Well, let’s take a closer look.
The lock chosen by most homeowners is the ever available Kwikset lockset. It is cheap, and you can find them wherever locks are sold. In lockouts, Kwikset’s are great because professionals know that they will be able to open them without incident. They are incredibly easy to pick, so experts have no issue using surreptitious entry methods. Even beginners and first-time lock pickers can open these locks. But to be fair, they do have different levels of security. Their highest price locks use their SmartKey cylinder. These locks are very difficult to pick. Kwikset was even running a commercial for a while where the best locksmiths in the country could not pick or bump the lock. These locks can, of course, be picked, but there are much simpler ways to open them. Those entry methods require almost no training or skill. It is just funny that the more secure these products tried to get, the less secure they actually became.
Then there are the obvious decisions that are made by the company to cut costs. Take a basic Schlage and a Kwikset deadbolt. You can actually feel how much lighter the Kwikset is. That is because there is less metal in the lock. Take a look and you will see how little metal there is in the Kwikset locks. Metal content adds strength to the device, which creates more protection against violent entry (the chosen entry method of thieves). One of the key reasons that the SmartKey cylinders are so insecure is because they use actual plastic pieces in the lock. There is plastic instead of metal! Plastic, of course, has very low-pressure tolerances and undoubtedly less tolerance than any hard metal. When the plastic pieces break, the lock fails. These locks can be a teaching tool, a way to break in your new lock pick set, and a way to inform the public about the need for better security… Other than that they really only serve the purpose of being a punching bag for security experts.
If you want a safe, you can head down to the local Walmart, Home Depot, Costco and pick up a Sentry Safe. Needless to say, this is not one of the best safe companies available. If a criminal wants to get inside someone’s Sentry Safe, all they have to do is buy a large rare earth magnet online. Originally this completely covert entry method was shown to work on all non-burglary rated safes. Now it is clear that this bypass will work on any style or model as long as it uses the digital combination lock. These safes offer very little security in terms of deterring criminal activity. In terms of the opinions of security experts, these are the easiest safes to poke fun at.
All kinds of issues arise with construction on even the most basic levels of security. On some models, they have outside hinges and no secondary interior hinges. Essentially that means that you could break the hinges off and the door would fall onto the floor. Other models have reset buttons on the hinged side of the door, and a wide enough gap so that the digital dial can be reprogrammed without opening the safe with the proper pre-existing code. This is an unacceptable bypass method for any electronic lock set up, but it gets worse. Almost any safe that is sold with a key override can be easily picked, and in some cases, they can be bypassed. With all of these tremendous flaws in construction and design, it is just too easy to poke fun at the company.
The Defiant lock brand is only available at Home Depot. You can buy some of these locks for under $10. What do you get for such a king’s ransom? Well, surprisingly enough you are given a lifetime warranty. You can look on their Twitter, and even a little commercial that they have online, and they will tell you about the quality that is ensured by a “lifetime warranty”. But security experts don’t go in for fancy words. When it comes to safety and locks specifically, the professionals like to know how they work. You can read the actual warranty for Defiant locks, and chances are you will be pretty confused by the very liberal use of legalese. Or maybe you can decipher what:
Except to the extent prohibited by applicable law, no other warranties, whether express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose, shall apply to this product. (Defiant Warranty)
actually, means. I, as a person who is not a lawyer, can only surmise that laws of “merchantability” do not apply to this product. That would mean that it is not even guaranteed to be able to function for the purpose of which it was intended.
You may be wondering how they can do this. Well, at the top of the warranty information you will see the word “LIMITED” placed ever so gently in between the two words of their favorite phrase “LIFETIME WARRANTY”. This is enough to earn the company the ire of the security industry, but there is more. The core of the lock is just a Kwikset clone (the standard, not the SmartKey cylinder). In terms of the security that is being offered, you are getting the same low picking tolerances of a standard Kwikset. The hardware does not stand up to drilling, though they will show that the throw of the deadbolt does have an anti-saw rod. A kick, drill, bump key, or an amateur thief with a rake and a windshield wiper insert will be able to open this lock, but they are going to showcase a violent entry method that no one ever uses. Defiant either doesn’t care, or doesn’t understand, that these locks provide a disturbingly low level of security.
When it comes to the biggest names in security, Master Lock has an undeniable position at the tippy top. Go to the gym locker room and you will see almost all the Master Padlocks ever made. They line school hallways, adorned on every visible locker. Their products are used to protect bicycles, whether it is their U-locks or padlocks. And for the most part, it is all junk. The biggest joke in the security industry is the use of Master Locks by the general public. It has even reached the New York Post. Take a look around a professional building or institution that uses padlocks. I defy you to find one that using a Master Lock. The highest caliber of professional use I have ever seen was a Master Padlock in a construction site…used to lock up the Porta Potty that had been left there overnight. It was literally protecting [Redacted]!
So you want to know what the issues are with these locks exactly. How much time do you have? Most of them can be shimmed. This is a bypass method used to open padlocks, and it requires almost no skill. You can make shims out of Coke cans, or you could simply buy them pre-made (10 for just under $7). So if you can finish your soda, watch a Youtube video, then you will be able to open almost every single Master Padlock. The fix for the shimming bypass is so simple that Master Lock has done it on some of their newer models, but the most common locks (Master #3 and 1500 series) can still be shimmed. Pretty much any four-wheel combination lock they sell can be decoded with a feeler gauge. In the case of the Master 175 (one of the many locks that provide almost no security), it can be opened by sliding a thin piece of metal between the gap in the wheel and raising the locking arm in the lock. Their bike locks can be opened with pens. Their lock cores are very simple to pick, and in some cases hitting them with a hammer will open the locks. With so many ways to open them without keys, they are great training locks, but pretty useless in terms of security. Don’t use them to try and protect anything, but experts will keep them around for the laughs.
It is that classic love-hate relationship. Security experts just love to hate these manufacturers. No one is going to stop buying the cheapest product just because it isn’t good for them. Much like health professionals poking fun at McDonald’s, you have to laugh at the things that people do to themselves because you can’t change it. These companies are not going to disappear just because security experts can’t stand them. As the old saying goes, “You have to laugh to keep from crying” and that is why the professionals have to love their hate. Until people start to take their security seriously, subpar companies are going to continue to mass produce less than adequate low-quality products. Spread the hate, and hopefully, we can open some eyes and change some minds.