General

LOCK, PICK AND PERIL

The key to effective home security

by Rob Gilhooly

It’s a weekday afternoon at the Shibuya branch of Tokyu Hands and one section of the popular DIY store is attracting particular attention. Staff are kept busy by the flood of inquiries about the range of door locks neatly displayed in glass cases.

“Our front door lock is about 10 years old, and with all this talk about lock-picking I thought it was about time we changed it,” said one middle-aged customer.

Such decisive action would seem to be producing results. Recent statistics show that during the first three months of 2001 lock-picking break-ins fell by one-third over the same period last year. The development of advanced lock technology and numerous antipicking devices, such as alarms, are seen as the main reasons for that fall.

The National Police Agency set the wheels in motion last year when an NPA-affiliated body, the Japan Crime Prevention Association, established a new certification system for door locks and lock cylinders that are considerably more difficult to pick. The association approves entire lock systems and cylinders that conform to the requirements of its aptly named Crime Prevention certification system. Approved locks on the market are indicated by a blue “CP” mark and cylinders by a red “CP-C” mark.

It is estimated that around 70 percent of condominiums in Japan are fitted with so-called “disc-cylinder” locks. These mechanisms house metal plates that are aligned and thus opened when keys are inserted and turned. Keys used have teeth along both edges and have a single trough running along the length of one side of the key.

According to some locksmiths and other security experts, these can easily be picked.

“Disc cylinder locks are the most common and the most targeted,” said an official at Tokyu Hands. “Even I could pick one open within a few minutes.”

With the right picking tools, seasoned burglars can get them open in a matter of seconds, he added.

To thwart would-be lock-pickers, the latest technology incorporates dimple keys, rotary cylinders and magnetic locks.

The dimple key has a number of small craters on its surfaces and/or sides. To activate the lock, these must be aligned with several rows of small pins set on springs inside the cylinder.

The magnetic key is fitted with both dimples and minute magnets and can only unlock a door if those magnets come into contact with corresponding ones inside the lock cylinder.

A spokesperson for a Tokyo-based association of locksmiths explained that, in a nutshell, the main difference between the improved locks and their conventional counterparts is greater precision and complexity. Whereas locks previously had a certain amount of “play,” the new locks are more rigid, she said.

“The [lock] systems are designed so that nothing but the key it was made for will budge it,” she said.

As the keys are made using high-tech precision machinery, they also are virtually impossible to copy, she added. Indeed, keys for dimple and magnetic type locks must be order-made from the key maker.

One aim of the CP-C system was to encourage the development of improved cylinders that could be installed for around 10,000 yen, a third of the cost of some locks. This has resulted in a number of security and lock companies looking to get their teeth into a potentially lucrative market.

A spokesperson from Miwa Lock Co. explained that there are some 28 different types of certified locks and cylinders on the market. Miwa itself has developed six lock systems and four cylinders all passed by the JCPA.

One of Miwa’s products, the U9 cylinder, uses a rotary tumbler and locking bar inside the lock that act as “wedges” and “barriers” to any object inserted other than the correct key, he explained.

Toyo Shutter Co., meanwhile, introduced a novel concept recently: a lock that comes complete with theft insurance.

In a tieup with Nippon Fire and Marine Insurance Co., the Osaka-based company introduced the JCPA-passed lock with the added incentive that if it’s picked within a year of purchase, compensation of up to 500,000 yen will be paid for any damage incurred. The cost for the lock and its installation starts at 12,000 yen.

Many lock companies, however, advise people to seriously consider the “one door, two locks” principle, which may be twice the price, but also guarantees a burglar’s job will be twice as difficult.

“Police have found that burglars will give up if picking a lock takes more than two or three minutes,” said Nobutaka Hyakutake of Sanpo Lock Co. “A door with an extra lock will likely deter anyone from even trying.”