Yale introduces Z-Wave based, multi-touch deadbolt locks

CES 2011: Hackers and bedazzled pink silicone case makers rejoice

Lock maker and home security outfit Yale have unleashed their newest creation on the unsuspecting home automation masses.  Deadbolt door locks with multi-touch gesture input, and internet connectivity so you can lock your kid in his room from anywhere in the world.

One of my favorite stops so far at CES has been the Yale booth where they were demoing their newest high tech door locks.  I was initially intrigued by the fact that they had taken something seemingly simple, like a deadbolt lock, and introduced countless new high tech ways to pick it.   It seemed a bit ridiculous to introduce multiple new points of failure and attack vectors for the ability to lock/unlock the door from your smart phone, thus intense questioning ensued.

The Z-Wave system is essentially a mesh network of wireless devices that relay signals between themselves to send the appropriate instruction down the line to some end device (lock, thermostat, control box, etc.)  For instance the door lock can be programmed with a certain code which is transmitted to the control box which activates various lights, electronic equipment, adjusts the thermostat, and unlocks the door just by entering that code.  As Z-Wave is a very low powered signal, it relies on having devices within a certain radius of each other, creating a “mesh” of signals to ensure that they can all talk to one another.  If a device happens to be out of range of everything else, then you would need some sort of repeater device in between to make it all work, (one would need a ridiculous house, and poor home automation layout to encounter this issue we are told.)

The broadcast between locks is protected by a 128 bit AES encryption scheme, and transmissions between an individual lock and the control box are protected by both a network level (master) key and a second encryption key randomly generated based on RF noise at the time of transmission which is only good for a window of 3 seconds.  The whole system is designed to work on the 908MHz frequency which should minimize interference with most household devices and WiFi spots.

Another interesting thing to note is that these locks are battery powered (4x AA) which means that they are not repeaters.  Only devices that are permanently attached to a power supply such as a thermostat or light control are able to relay signals throughout the house.

The locks work by entering either a PIN code (4-8 digits) or using an old-school metal key.   The touch screen model features multi-touch input which is used to enable the lock panel (touch it with more than one finger) and to lock the panel  (swipe your finger up the panel to lock.)  As mentioned earlier a pin code can be create to initiate any number of home automation actions upon entry, and the system allows for several hundred of such codes to be created.  You can even create time windows that the code is active in the event that you want somebody to have access to your home during certain hours but not others (for instance housekeepers.)

We’re just seeing the start of what can be done in this regard, but it is nonetheless fascinating.  The security of such a product is actually well thought out, but not bullet-proof.  Paranoids and thrifty folk will likely want to look elsewhere, and RF hackers now have a new hobby.  These locks should probably come with a warning to start being super nice to your neighborhood nerd.S|A

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