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Property Rounds: Residential Home security goes digital

September 26, 2018

In 2014, burglaries in Connecticut dropped to a level not seen in more than 50 years, with the FBI reporting less than 12,000 incidents statewide across both residences and commercial establishments, an 8 percent decline from the year before.

While several factors play into deterrence, the decline has occurred at the start of a new era of app-enabled home security systems that send alerts to homeowners as people arrive at their doorways and driveways.

Of homes selling these days in Darien, New Canaan and other upscale towns in southwestern Connecticut, less than one in five properties have smart locks, in the estimation of Amy Barsanti, an agent in the Darien and Rowayton offices of William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty based in Stamford, whether on a stand-alone basis or as part of a larger home-automation system that might include internet-enabled thermostats and other appliances.

“I think more and more people are getting cameras,” Barsanti told Hearst Connecticut Media. “I would say that number is probably higher, but overall I think people love the whole smart system (idea) these days so they can check on things.”

Making the market ready for digital

In mid-October, the Yale subsidiary of Assa Abloy plans to launch a new line of smart locks that can be controlled with a mobile app. Assa Abloy indicated it is the first time it has hooked up a Yale lock to the cloud-based platform of its Connected by August brand, with the locks made in Berlin, Conn., and selling for under $300. Assa Abloy acquired August Home late last year for an undisclosed amount.

The new line of Assure brand locks allow Yale customers to swap in a keypad for their existing dead bolt locks and keys, allowing them to punch in an entry code to gain entry, unlock the door using the app, or have the lock do so automatically as the system senses the customer’s smartphone approaching the door.

The new smart locks are compatible as well with major “voice assistant” platforms from Amazon, Apple and Google, and can work with lock systems for Airbnb, HomeAway and SimpliSafe.

Speaking on an April conference call, the new CEO of Assa Abloy acknowledged his company’s sales pipelines through Amazon and Google bring significantly lower profit margins, but that the sales volume more than makes up for that.

“Gross margins ... for our Amazon orders, as well as for our Nest orders, are lower than average,” said Assa Abloy CEO Nico Delvaux in mid-April. “On the other hand, of course, it adds also an important way to volume. … It’s a very good business to be in. It gives us volume leverage, it helps us to spread our brand name in the market, and it also helps to make the market more ready for digital solutions.”

‘Unlikely a weak point of security’

In August, the Yonkers, N.Y.-based parent company of Consumer Reports published ratings on Assa Abloy’s August and Yale systems and those of rivals Kwikset and Schlage, testing the devices across a range of criteria from their initial setup; to alert and visitor log functionality; to ability to withstand a physical blow from a steel battering ram weighing 100 pounds.

The physical security of a smart lock was the top consideration for nine of 10 people polled in a 2016 survey sponsored by Assa Abloy that was published in the security trade publication IFSEC Global, with three in four citing the importance of a mechanical key as a backup in instances where the digital lock function went offline or other problems surfaced.

Far lower on the list were criteria related to mobile app functionality; also given consideration was a lock’s vulnerability to any attacks by sophisticated hackers. This summer, the Canadian company Tapplock was forced to scramble for a quick fix for what it calls the world’s first fingerprint-enabled padlock after a British firm posted a video purporting to depict it cracking the lock open in a few seconds with the assistance of a laptop computer program.

In 2017, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers hit the August Home lock with a series of attacks that hackers might employ, prior to the Assa Abloy acquisition, giving the system mostly good marks while noting a few vulnerabilities they postulated a sophisticated hacker might be able to exploit, and that could extend to other smart locks.

“None of our attacks have revealed serious vulnerabilities,” the MIT researchers stated in their report. “For a typical user, it seems unlikely to be a weak point of defense in home security.”

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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