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What is a Smart Lock? The most important questions about electronic door locks
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What is a Smart Lock? The most important questions about electronic door locks

Get Inspired 20.06.2019 | Christine Deniz

Update: 29.12.2021

More and more people are talking about smart homes lately, and digital door locks in particular. But how do these smart locks actually work? Do you really have to be a tech wiz to understand the concept? In this article, we’re going to answer the most important questions people ask about smart locks.

How you can unlock your door without a key

The principle behind digital door locks is a simple one. They come in different versions, but retrofittable models, like the Nuki Smart Lock, usually work like this:

  • You fix a mounting plate, which is either glamped or clued, to the locking cylinder on the interior side of the door.
  • Then you insert your existing key into the lock on the interior side of the door.
  • The smart lock itself is an attachment that you place directly over the key and fasten to the lock.
  • This attachment contains a small motor that turns the key in the lock, enabling it to lock and unlock the cylinder. Power is usually supplied by batteries. (Nuki offers the Power Pack as an ecological alternative).
  • However, the motor in the smart lock only turns the key when it receives the command to do so. For this to happen, the smart lock needs to be connected and configured to the corresponding app on your phone. This is usually done via Bluetooth.

It might seem a bit strange opening the door to your home this way. But you probably also lock or unlock your car door with a remote control, instead of inserting the key. Smart lock users get used to this convenience at the front door pretty quickly too.

The “key” factor: protecting your home

The highest security standards are rightfully expected of smart home devices and especially of digital door locks. After all, it’s about granting access to your own home. Ever since we as humans stopped living as nomads, we’ve been looking for ways to improve our homes. And so, the key became very important, as it made it possible to safeguard our homes against intruders. The fact that there was never any real alternative until very recently is also a testament to just how important the key is. Very few ideas have remained unchanged for so long. Only the very latest encryption methods (with the underlying software), like the software used in digital door locks, are now able to replace the traditional key by offering at least the same level of security.

How secure are smart locks?

How can you be sure that using a smart lock to lock your door is actually secure? When you’re locking and unlocking your door, the little motor that turns the cylinder is connected to the smartphone giving the command via the app.
The smart lock itself is not a security risk, as most devices are mounted on the interior side of your door and can’t be seen from the outside. This means a door with a smart lock is usually no different from a conventional door when seen from the outside. An important security factor is the connection or communication between the smartphone and smart lock.
More about the security of smart devices

We tend to think normal keys are secure because each one is made to fit a specific lock. However, with a digital lock, your smartphone is the key. But how can you be sure that other smartphones can’t be used to control the smart lock without your knowledge? This is where the encryption process comes in. As the owner of a smart lock, you set up access to your electronic door lock by connecting your smartphone to the smart lock. From then on, communication between the two devices is encrypted in such a way that it cannot be manipulated by another smartphone. Likewise, your smart lock won’t respond to “requests” from any smartphone besides your own. Ensuring this level of security requires very complex software with a highly secure encryption concept. The Nuki Smart Lock, for example, uses so-called end-to-end encryption, which is also used in online banking.

What makes a smart lock smart?

An electronic lock is therefore just as secure as a conventional door lock but offers you far more features! A smart lock also makes it really easy to solve those all-too-familiar everyday problems using the magic of digitisation. With a smart lock, you no longer need to have spare keys made or hide keys under the mat. Simply grant access to friends, family members, service providers, etc. in the form of a digital key. With the right add-on, you can even control your Smart Lock remotely. (The Nuki Smart Lock 3.0 Pro already includes remote access.)

This is extremely useful in so many everyday situations: If you rent out a holiday apartment, for example, you no longer have to be on site every time to hand over the keys thanks to smart lock technology. Simply assign your Airbnb guests secure access permissions that are limited to the booking period. But digital door locks are also a real everyday relief in the care sector – for both the person in need of care as well as the caregiver.

What to consider when choosing a Smart Lock

As we’ve seen, the most important thing here is security. This is why it’s essential for you to opt for manufacturers that have been certified by well-known testing institutes, such as AV-TEST or Avira. While it may be a bit tough to understand if you’re not an expert, it’s still important for manufacturers to disclose their encryption concept.
We explain Nuki’s end-to-end encryption concept to you here. In August 2021, Nuki was certified by AV-Test as a “Secure Smart Home Product” for the fifth time. See the comprehensive test results here.

Smart locks are designed to make everyday routines much easier. But what good is that if the installation process itself becomes a hurdle? That’s why the Nuki Smart Lock is designed to be easily mounted onto the existing cylinder on the interior side of the door without screws or drilling. There is no need for technical knowledge for the installation, and there are no changes or residues on the door – so it’s ideal for renters.
Here you can find detailed information about how to install Nuki.

A good smart lock should also work for people who don’t really enjoy using their phone or who may not even have a smartphone. In that case, Nuki offers a number of clever add-ons for the Smart Lock, like the Keypad, which allows the lock to be activated by entering a code, or the Fob, a Bluetooth remote that unlocks the door at the touch of a button.

Control your Nuki Smart Lock via Google Assistant and benefit from these advantages in everyday life


More information about the security
of smart locks and smart home devices

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Christine Deniz

Christine Deniz

Ich zähle zu den Menschen, die von sich behaupten „sich bei Technik nicht wirklich auszukennen”. Daher ist mir wichtig, dass komplexe Vorgänge verständlich und einfach dargestellt werden. Bei der Smart Lock Technologie fasziniert mich die Tatsache, dass dadurch der Schlüssel - das zentrale Element eines Zuhauses - nicht nur ersetzt, sondern noch erweitert wird. Eine Innovation für alle, nicht nur für Techies.