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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

Safe Override Keys: Understanding Safe Keys

by Taylor April 25, 2022

Many people these days have been tempted to get completely keyless locks. Technology has advanced to where keeping track of keys is no longer necessary. You can memorize passwords or codes to get into your own safes or doors.

If that’s true, then what’s the deal with override keys? Doesn’t it negate the purpose of electronic locks by giving them a mechanical key mechanism?

Override keys for safes are physical keys that can override the electronic locking mechanism. You can open an electronic lock without knowing the password if you have the override key. You simply insert the key and open the door, just like you would with any mechanical lock.

This sounds like it might compromise your security. An attacker only needs the key, and then they can get past your lock. It makes your electronic lock no more secure than a mechanical lock, after all. So what’s the point?

The truth is, all locks have their vulnerabilities. While it makes your lock less safe, it is not significantly less insecure than any other electronic lock.

But is the convenience really worth it? How do they work? And should you get an override key when choosing a smart lock? How about an override key for safes?

Here is an overview of override keys for safes:

1. What is an override key for safes?

2. How do override keys for safes work?

3. Are safe override keys safe?

4. Failure without an override key

5. Should you go keyless?

What is an override key for safes?

Most safes, and several doors, these days are electronic. This means they don’t use keys to open, but rather some electricity-based mechanism. Most use keypads to open. Some use biometrics, like fingerprint scans. Whatever the case, keys are usually unnecessary.

But what happens when a safe or a door’s electronics fail? How do you open it?

This is where override keys come in. Override keys for safes or doors are special keys that can be inserted that get past the electronic systems inside the lock.

These allow locksmiths to get inside your lock quickly if needed. They also allow you to get past the lock if you forget the combination or if something happens to the mechanism. Override keys are made for an extra level of safety. They ensure that you don’t lose access to your valuables or get locked out of places.

Early electronic locks had a stronger possibility of failure as the technology was still being worked out. As a result, override keys were developed in case of these failures. Because of them, locksmiths don’t have to disassemble your lock to unlock your safes or get through your doors.

The problem is that now you need to find a place to hide your override key for your supposedly keyless lock. You still don’t have to regularly interact with a key, but you do need to figure out a safe hiding spot for it.

Another unfortunate truth is that all locks are pickable. Someone with the right tools could simply pick your override keyhole open, as long as they knew how.

Of course, even fully keyless locks have their own bypasses. One thing to keep in mind is that many override keys for safes use tubular locks. These are harder to pick than the standard linear pin tumbler lock that most lock pickers are familiar with because they’re less common and require different picking tools.

Nevertheless, override keys make your locks pickable and change how your security functions.

How do override keys for safes work?

Electronic locks have sliding deadbolts in the same way mechanical locks do. When any lock is locked, it usually has a bar that blocks the deadbolt from sliding back into the door. When it’s unlocked, this bar moves. This allows the deadbolt to slide backward and move out of the way.

Electricity in the electronic lock causes a motor to activate. This moves the bar and unblocks the deadbolt. Without the motor, the bar that secures into the door can still be moved mechanically with the turn of a key.

Electronic locks with override keys are more or less just mechanical locks with a motor that can accomplish the same thing as the usual locking mechanism.

Early electronic locks were simply modifications you could attach to your existing mechanical lock. These days, things have changed. Most current electronic locks are more complicated than that. The mechanical parts are prioritized less, and they are now primarily electronic. Override keys have become a bit outdated, as well as being a slight security risk.

Are safe override keys safe?

Are override keys for safes safe if they work exactly like non-electronic mechanical keys? Why get an electronic lock with an override key when you can just get a mechanical one?

Override keys for safes are not inherently unsafe, as regular mechanical locks are not horribly unsafe. You can still take security measures by hiding the key or keeping it in a protected area. Make sure no one has access to it except for you.

The claim that electronic locks with override keys are no different from mechanical locks is somewhat accurate from a certain perspective. There’s not much difference, in the end, if the lock can be unlocked with an override key.

Of course, this comes down to security. Electronic locks are generally more convenient and easier to open when you don’t need to keep track of a specific key. They remain more convenient even with override keys, as you can store the override key in a safe location and never touch it.

When it comes to the security of override keys, an important truth to remember is that completely keyless electronic locks aren’t significantly more secure than mechanical locks.

All electronic locks have their own bypasses. Some of these bypasses are more obscure than picking a pin tumbler lock, but depending on the electronic lock, some of these bypasses are laughably easy.

Some cheap safes can be opened with nothing more than a strong magnet or force applied at just the right angle. Some particularly insecure electronic doors have been opened with nothing but pocket knives. An override key for safes is not going to change your security in these instances.

In short, safes and doors with override keys are not any safer than safes and doors with mechanical pin tumbler locks. That being said, the usual safety is still there. Electronic locks vary in safety greatly, override key or not. You should research all aspects of one before making a purchase.

What happens when a safe without an override key fails?

If having an override key is detrimental to your security, what happens if you need one but don’t have one?

If your electronic lock fails and there’s no override key for safes that you own, you can hire a locksmith to open it. Locksmiths know their way around locks, including unpickable electronic locks. The process for opening one is simple.

To understand what problem you’re having, the locksmith will have to disassemble the lock and examine its parts. The problem could simply be the result of a dead battery. The problem could also come from components inside the lock becoming dislodged or getting jammed.

After determining the problem, the locksmith can then quickly solve the problem. Most commonly, this will involve replacing the batteries or realigning the parts already there. In some circumstances, you may need entirely new parts. Lock parts inevitably get worn out over time, so this will occasionally happen.

After that, the lock should then be capable of opening and closing with ease. The locksmith will test it out to ensure that this is the case before leaving.

Now, maybe your lock didn’t fail: you simply forgot the code. A locksmith can help reset your lock and create a new code, as well. Maybe one that’s easier to remember this time.

Should you go keyless?

Should you go completely keyless with your locks? After all, it’d be much more convenient. No more worrying about misplaced keys or having to keep track of things. Going keyless is something that many people try to do and are disappointed to find that they have an override key for safes that they need to worry about. So when should you go completely keyless?

Going keyless for security reasons is a tricky thing. As stated above, keyless electronic locks have their own bypasses, and no lock is 100% safe from all intruders. That being said, the benefits of keyless vs. keyed locks come down to what the most likely security risk is.

Most intruders get past locks by picking standard linear pin tumbler locks. Few people are going to know how to bypass keyless electronic locks. That being said, craftier criminals may have the know-how. Some of them that you might buy have their bypasses readily available online, as well. Do your research on what lock you plan to buy.

Override keys for safes often use tubular locks, which are harder to pick and require specialized tools, so the risk of picking is lower. Once again, however, craftier criminals are going to know how to pick these.

Going completely keyless for the sake of convenience is totally doable. Some may have reservations about the safety of keyless electronic locks. They may be under the false impression that if the batteries fail, the lock is inaccessible.

Battery failure is no longer devastating. Electronic lock technology has advanced a lot over the years, and getting locked out due to failure is no longer a strong possibility. An override key for safes is largely unnecessary at this point.

FAQs

Is an override key for safes secure?

If a safe has an override key, that means it is as vulnerable as the mechanical lock inside. Some safes have tubular locks as their override keys. These are harder to pick than linear pin tumbler locks due to their relative obscurity and need for specialized tools. That being said, all locks are pickable, and a more obscure lock isn’t going to completely protect you.

One thing to keep in mind is that some electronic locks have easy bypasses. Know the security of any individual electronic lock or the mechanics of your override key to understand how safe your safe is.

Are electronic locks without override keys safe if they fail?

Electronic lock failures don’t happen nearly as often as they used to. Locksmiths can open failed electronic locks quickly in the unlikely event that it does happen, but it generally won’t. In all likelihood, nothing disastrous will happen if your safe has no override key.

Now, whether or not you’re the kind of person who will remember a password is a different story.

Are there electronic locks without override keys?

Many electronic locks these days have their override keys removed. If an obvious override keyhole makes you nervous, you can opt for an electronic lock without an override key.

How do override keys for safes work?

Electronic locks with override keys are essentially mechanical locks with an electric motor. The motor can deactivate the deadbolt without the user needing a key. Without the electric motor, the lock’s usual mechanisms are still there. The lock with an override key can be simply unlocked using that key.

Conclusion

Override keys are keys that bypass the electronic mechanism in electronic locks. But are they secure? What’s the point of having an electronic lock if you have an override key?

Override keys do not make electronic locks breachable, as all electronic locks are already breachable. They can make the electronic locks less secure, however. The ones found on doors often use linear pin tumbler locks that are easy to pick. Some safes use these locks as well.

Override keys for safes are mostly unnecessary at this point, technologically speaking. They make your security slightly worse, and if you get locked out of places, you can always just call a locksmith.

Overall, you don’t really need a safe or door with an override key, but you can get one if you’re worried about being locked out of places. They don’t help with security, and they’re not entirely necessary. That being said, if you often forget passwords or combinations to safes, one might be good to have around. Think about this before getting a keypad door lock or safe.

What’s your opinion on override keys for safes? Leave a comment below!

Category: Lock Types, Safes

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