Lock Loaded

In this access control system, the power's in the key.

The importance of a good lock is oft overlooked but cannot be overstated. As author/philosopher Ayn Rand saw it, the very concept of civilization can be thought of as progress toward a society of privacy, a notion that is pretty much the fountainhead of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a.k.a. the Privacy Rule. Designed to ensure the protection and confidentiality of patients’ medical records and other health information, HIPAA became one of our civil rights in April 2003, which, not coincidentally, was around the same time a Corvallis, Ore.-based company named Videx came into its own with the design, manufacture, and distribution of its products for controlling access to such sensitive information.

Videx started business in 1979 by creating circuit boards for Apple computers. In 1985, it began producing a line of portable data collection terminals that were precursors to the handheld barcode scanners and iButton readers it still makes today. But in 2000, building on similar “smart” technology, the company introduced a new product—in fact, a whole new system—that Videx Vice President Andy Hilverda says turned the security and access control industry on its head.

Opportunity Locks
The timing of the system’s entry in the marketplace was propitious, fueled by the pervasive insecurity following Sept. 11, 2001, and, later, enforcement of HIPAA. Worksites of all varieties—from utility substations to cell phone towers to health care facilities charged with protecting medical records or the contents of pharmaceutical cabinets like the one pictured on this page—suddenly found themselves in the market for a better lock.

Videx called its system CyberLock, named for its electronic cylinders made to replace standard mechanical lock cores. Each cylinder has a unique ID, is designed to the exact dimensional standards of the mechanical cylinder it is replacing, and is programmed with access codes that identify it as belonging to a company’s own network. Each cylinder also has memory for storing the most recent 1,100 “access events.” Hilverda says the intelligence built into the cores was, in 2000, “a breakthrough technology,” but adds that the truly revolutionary component of the system is found, not in the lock, but in the CyberKey.

“Until we introduced this system, access control was based on lock-centric types of concepts,” he says. “The lock had the power, the lock had the processing, and the key was very passive. All the intelligence was resident within the lock, and that was what access control was all about.” Using as example the familiar sliding card lock system on many hotel room doors, Hilverda adds, “With such systems, the locks have to be hardwired in the facility, with power running into these locks either for function or communication, and lines going back and forth from the lock to the computer.”

To put it simply, CyberLock reversed that concept. “It’s what we call a key-centric system,”Hilverda says. “It is in the key that you have the power”—literally, the power of a battery (one CR-2 3v lithium) as well as a microprocessor, both housed in the key’s handle, which is less than two inches wide and an inch thick. The microprocessor in the CyberLock cylinder, meanwhile, remains passive and requires no power, becoming energized only when in contact with the key, which supplies all the power the system needs, with a life cycle averaging between 2,000 and 5,000 openings per battery, depending on settings. When the battery gets low, the CyberKey can send an email, alerting managers.

Key Control
Managers also can program the system to audit and send emails about the activities of specific keys (or their owners). “I might be an individual that you have particular concern about, and so you could have my daily log, or the audit of my ‘events,’ emailed to you as a manager so you don’t have to go looking for it,” Hilverda says. “So if I use that key to open a cabinet, you know that I did that—and not only that I did, but the day and time that I did it. It provides a lock history, if you will, of everybody that opened that lock up—or attempted to.”

Each CyberKey is unique and contains a list of locks it can open, with days, times, and expiration dates, and individual keys can be updated “at a moment’s notice,” Hilverda says. A single key can be programmed to open all the different types of locks at a workplace and contains an audit trail of up to 3,900 access events. If a key is lost or stolen, the locks can immediately be programmed to refuse access to the key. And although two keys in the system can be programmed alike, each one will make its own unique record of events in the system’s software.

Videx offers four different levels for managing the CyberLock system: EntryPoint, a hardware-only system that requires no programming software; and three software packages—CyberAudit-Web Lite, CyberAudit Professional, and CyberAudit-Web Enterprise— with progressively broader administrative capabilities for accessing schedules, viewing audit trails, and programming. The feature-rich Enterprise package, which is best suited for geographically widespread companies, allows remote access to managers who are traveling or otherwise on the go, through Internet-enabled cell phones and other PDA devices.

Cyber Pick
According to Hilverda, there are now about 200 different designs of CyberLocks, with prices ranging from $150 to $200. The CyberKeys, around which the whole system revolves, are about $100 each. Hilverda notes that the system’s price becomes a bargain when compared to traditional lock-centric systems that require structural modifications or wiring for installation, which CyberLocks do not. The system also eliminates the inconvenience and expense of rekeying, he says, providing a key that cannot be duplicated and lock that cannot be picked.

A note on this last point: In its product literature and on its Web site,Videx frequently cites the “pickproof” nature of its CyberLocks, touting them as devices “that cannot be compromised,” but it took me about 30 seconds on Google to bring up YouTube footage showing some yahoo purportedly demonstrating how to do just that. Watching it, I was reminded of another Ayn Randism: “The secrets of this earth are not for all men to see, but only for those who seek them.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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