Liability Concerns with Master Key Systems

Master Key System in SF

An Introduction to Master Key Systems

Master keys are a low cost form of access control. A single key called a master key works on all locks in a single system; these are called master key systems. These systems are commonly used in large commercial buildings filled with offices and apartment buildings.

The Liability Concerns with Master Key Systems

If a criminal is able to make a copy of a key, he or she then has access to every area that uses that master key. Criminals who get a hold of the master key can open every lock in the system. If a criminal has learned how to pick the master lock, he or she is able to expertly open the rest of the locks. Another liability of the system is the fact that people feel artificially safe using them. Locks in master key systems can be opened by a personal key and a master key. Those who are prudent with their own keys feel safe, when the maintenance staff that controls the master keys may not be. Residents may feel that their property is utterly safe until copies of a master key lifted from keys left in an access panel give thieves open season on apartments while residents are at work. The grandmaster key system is even less secure. In the grandmaster key system, conventional change keys are held by residents or occupants and master keys grant access to an entire area. The grandmaster key works on all locks within the grandmaster system. If a thief is able to make a copy of the grandmaster key, they have open access to the entire facility.

It is easier to pick a lock that has more than one “key”, because each key creates a pin that can be tripped. As the number of pins in the tumbler increase, the likelihood that the lock picker will hit at least one of them is increased.

The sheer cost of installing many locks as part of the master key system leads to the selection of generic locks, instead of higher quality locks.

Poorly designed master key systems create gaps in the access control system. Gaps are all too often not discovered until after they’ve been exploited.

Solutions to the Liability Concerns

Install patent-protected cylinders that offer the greatest degree of security. Don’t use cheap locks to save on installation costs. The ideal master key system has two locks on each access panel or door, one for the resident’s key and a separate tumbler for the master key. Because the locks are separate, they are harder to pick. And it will be clear which tumbler was engaged to open the door, so you will know if the master key or resident’s key was copied.

Work with a security firm or Locksmith in South San Francisco to design a master key system that is hard to pick, has tight control over master keys and limits the number of master keys. Design a master key system that can be expanded, whether complemented later with digital keypads.

Use different master keys for each application. For example, use on key system for access to apartments and a separate one for locking mailboxes or utility panel access.

Have a plan to deal with lost or stolen keys. Plan the system from its inception to handle a building expansion and large scale changing of the locks.

Quickly confiscate keys from terminated employees. Take the keys from those going on vacation. Have a plan to handle employee turnover and mass layoffs.

Control access to master keys, and strictly limit the creation of duplicate keys.

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