Basically, a retired locksmith offered sets of keys for sale that most would have thought would be restricted, but they were not. While his actions seem to be stupid, they hardly seem illegal. Given the concern over the threat of terrorism – especially in NYC – you’d think they’d have taken some steps to protect potentially vulnerable infrastructure access. The Post reporter was able to get duplicates made of the keys at the local Lowe’s hardware.
While it is easy to point the finger at the locksmith, or even at the hardware store that made duplicates of the keys without question, there was really no reason for them not to what they did. That the city of New York didn’t take any steps to protect these areas is unforgivable. It’s a simple matter of key control. There are various levels of key control available, and the city availed itself of none. Any of a number of key manufacturers could provide a proprietary keyway for the city to use that would be unavailable through any other channel, and surely they could get a law passed prohibiting the unauthorized duplication of those keys.
What does this mean to the home or business owner? Review your own method of key control. Can you account for all copies of your key? If not, the first thing you should do is get your locks rekeyed. At least, at that point, you will know how many keys there are and who has them. Having a key manufacturer design your own keyway is not feasible for homeowners or most businesses, but there are other alternatives. Many key manufacturers offer restricted key blanks that are limited in supply, patented, and only available through certain locksmiths. Problems with this alternative include greatly increased cost and limited service options. While unauthorized duplication of the keys may be strictly limited, the loss of a key destroys the security of the system and is costly to correct.
What’s a homeowner or small business owner to do? You could opt for the restricted keyway, if you can afford it and understand the limitations. If the locks on your home or business are available at the local hardware, there may be nothing you can do except ask for keys to be marked “Do Not Duplicate.” Legally, this is no protection at all, though most ethical locksmiths would refuse to copy a key marked that way. Your risk is probably far greater that a hardware store employee would copy the key anyway. Of course, the new self-service key duplication machines at some hardwares can’t read. But you can greatly reduce the chance of unauthorized key duplication by using locks that use less common keyways. If you have a key marked “KW1” or “SC1”, your keys can be duplicated by virtually anyone, anywhere. Others are also commonly available, but others are less so. While most locks available at the hardware stores use either the KW1 or SC1 keyway and offer no alternative, others accept replacement cylinders using far less common keyways. Altic Lock Service recommends Arrow locks, that readily accept replacement cylinders using less common or even most restricted keyways.
Using less common, but unrestricted, keyways reduces the chance that someone can get a duplicate made of your key. Having the keys stamped “Do Not Duplicate” will reduce that chance further still. This is not as secure as a restricted key system, but it is easily the most cost-effective manner of improving key control since there is little or no extra cost, and no service limitations.