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15 Common Weaknesses in Home Security
The majority of the security assessments performed by Silva Consultants are for commercial businesses, however we also do many assessments at private homes. Here are fifteen common problems that we find when conducting home security assessments, along with some proposed solutions for correcting these problems:
#1 - Inexpensive Lock Hardware Used on Exterior Doors
Builders typically use inexpensive lock hardware when they build a home, sometimes even at homes costing millions of dollars. Most inexpensive lock hardware is poorly made and can easily be forced open or otherwise compromised by an intruder. Most inexpensive locks use traditional pin tumbler lock cylinders that can be "picked" or "bumped" open by an intruder. (Search YouTube to learn just how easy it is to compromise most pin tumbler lock cylinders.)
Solution: Replace existing lock sets on exterior doors with heavy-duty lock hardware from a reputable manufacturer. We recommend the use of ANSI Grade 2 locks at a minimum, with the use of ANSI Grade 1 locks preferred. For best security, consider the use of high-security lock cylinders (such ASSA or Medeco) to reduce the risks of picking, bumping and unauthorized duplication of keys. All exterior doors should be equipped with both a lock set with a high-security cylinder and a high-security deadbolt lock. (See High Security Locks for more information.)
#2 - Inadequate Reinforcement of Door Frames
It is often possible for a burglar to easily kick-in the exterior doors of the home because there is inadequate support provided by the door frames. Often, the bolt or latch enters a wood frame that provides a 1/4 inch or less of support for the door bolt or latch. A quick kick to the door provides enough force to split the door frame, allowing the door to be easily opened.
Solution: Provide heavy-duty strike plates at all exterior door frames. Use longer strike plates with greater surface area that permits the use of more mounting screws. Fasten strike plates with long screws that extend into the wall stud (2x4) next to the door rather than just into the door frame
itself. For best security, consider the use of door and frame reinforcement kits, such as the StrikeMaster II Pro.
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Example of Door and Frame Reinforcement Kit
#3 - Exposed Hinges on Out-Swinging Doors
Many homes have out-swinging doors with hinges that are exposed on the outside of the door. To open the door from the outside, an intruder simply needs to remove the hinge pins, allowing the door to pulled out of the door frame.
Solution: Add security studs to all hinges on out-swinging doors. These security studs prevent the door from being removed even if the hinge pins are removed. Commercially-made security studs can be purchased, or studs can be homemade (Drive a long screw into the edge of the door on the hinge side, cut off screw head, leaving approximately 1/2"of screw shaft exposed. Drill corresponding hole in the door frame so that when door is closed, screw enters hole in door frame).
Example of Security Stud
#4 - Poor Locking Hardware on Windows and Sliding Doors
The standard factory-supplied lock hardware on many residential windows and sliding doors is of very poor quality, allowing the window or door to be easily forced open or lifted from its tracks.
Solution: Provide supplementary locking devices on sliding doors and windows. These devices are available in a wide variety of different types and are sold on-line and at larger home improvement stores.
Example of Wood Dowel in Window Track
Examples of Supplementary Locking Devices for Windows and Sliding Doors
#5 - Unprotected Glass Used In Vulnerable Locations
Exterior glass is used at nearly every residence. Some homes have only a few exterior glass doors and windows, while at other homes glass makes up a significant portion of the exterior wall. While all glass is a potential entry point for a burglar, certain glass can especially vulnerable. This glass includes:
Solution: Install security window film on windows that are in particularly vulnerable locations. While an intruder can shatter the glass, the security window film keeps the glass shards together, making entry through the window opening much more difficult. (See Introduction to Security Window Film.)
#6 - Unlocked Doors and Windows
In a surprising number of homes, exterior doors and windows are left unlocked, even at times when the occupant is away. Often, the homeowner feels that leaving upper floor windows open is safe because of the height that these windows are from the ground. In reality, burglars have no trouble at all in gaining access to windows that are located two, three or even four floors above the ground. Some homeowners even make things easy for the burglar by leaving an unsecured ladder somewhere on the property.
Solution: All exterior doors and windows should be kept locked at all times at night and when the homeowner is away from the home. If certain windows must be kept open for ventilation purposes, consider the use of alarm window screens connected to the home's intrusion alarm system. These screens cause the intrusion alarm to activate when the screen is cut or removed. Alarm window screens are custom-fabricated for each window and are available from most companies that sell and install alarm systems.
#7 - Spare Door Key Left Hidden Outside
Many people continue to leave an a spare key to an exterior door "hidden" somewhere outside the home. Keys are commonly left under a door mat or placed beneath a flower pot, despite the fact that nearly everyone knows to look for keys in these locations. No matter how clever your hiding place seems to be, burglars seem to have a way of finding it.
Solution: Discontinue the practice of hiding a spare house key outside. Spare keys, if needed, should be left with a trusted neighbor, family member or friend who can bring them to you when you are locked out.
Front Door Key Left Under Mat
#8 - Shrubbery and Trees Block View of Home From The Street
In many cases, trees and shrubbery are overgrown and block the view of the house from the street and neighboring homes. This creates a condition where burglars can break into the home unobserved.
Solution: We recommend that recognized Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principals be used when installing and maintaining landscaping at the home. These principals suggest that clear sight lines be maintained between the home and the street to discourage criminal activity. To achieve this, it is recommended that shrubs and other ground cover be trimmed to no higher than three feet off of the ground, and that the bottom of tree canopies be pruned so that they are at least six feet off of the ground.
Recommended CPTED Principles For Maintaining Landscaping
CPTED Principles Used to Maintain Landscaping
#9 - Home Has Intrusion Alarm System Installed But It Is Not Used
We frequently see cases where an intrusion alarm system is installed at a home, but the residents have stopped using it. This often happens because of difficulties in using the system or due to the fear of false alarms. Even at homes where intrusion alarm systems are being used, homeowners often fail to arm the system when they leave for only a short period, such as when running an errand.
Solution: We recommend that the home's intrusion alarm system be armed at all times when the home is unoccupied, even for very short periods of time. Most burglaries are committed in under ten minutes, and burglars often watch a home and make entry just after the resident leaves. If the intrusion alarm system is difficult to use or causes false alarms, a qualified alarm company should be hired to upgrade the system and/or make repairs so that the system is easy to use and isn't prone to false alarms.
#10 - Problems With Telephone Lines Used with Intrusion Alarm System
Most older intrusion alarm systems used standard telephone lines to communicate with the alarm monitoring central station. We often see cases where the homeowner has replaced his or her traditional telephone service with telephone services offered by the cable television company, and the connection to the alarm system was not transferred to the new service. We also see cases where the homeowner relies exclusively on his or her cell phone, and has discontinued the use of wired telephone service entirely, forgetting that the alarm system depends on a wired telephone connection.
Solution: Homeowners should understand the method that their intrusion alarm system uses to communicate to the alarm monitoring center, and make sure that this method of communications will continue to operate when changes to the home's telephone service are made. For best security, we recommend that two separate methods of alarm communications be used. (See Alarm System Communications.)
#11 - Garage Door Vulnerability
Residential garage doors are commonly equipped with garage door openers. Most of these openers have an emergency release mechanism that allows the door to be opened in case of power failure. In the majority of cases, the emergency release mechanism can be released from the outside of the garage using a coat hanger or other stiff wire. The coat hanger is inserted at the gap at the top of the door, and is used to grab the cord connected to the emergency release. Once this cord is pulled, the door can be freely opened from the outside. This technique is often used by more sophisticated intruders as a method to gain entry to garages.
Solution: One simple solution is to remove the pull cord and to tie back the emergency release lever using a plastic wire tie. The door can still be opened from the inside in an emergency by simply cutting the wire tie and pulling the release lever. There are also commercially-made products that can be purchased that provide a shield around the emergency release lever, preventing it from being pulled except from inside the garage.
Method Used to Open Garage Doors From Outside
#12 - Old-Style Radio Controls Used With Garage Door Openers
For many years, simple radio controls were used in conjunction with garage door openers. These radio controls used a limited number of different code combinations, often 256 codes or less. An intruder with a compatible transmitter can manually try various code combinations until they find one that works. There are also homemade devices that can rapidly scan through all code combinations quickly, allowing the door to be opened in a manner of minutes.
One way to tell if your radio controls are one of the older types is to look at your garage door transmitter ("clicker"). Transmitters used with the older systems usually had a "DIP" switch that allowed the code combination to be set. Opening the case of the transmitter will allow you to see if a DIP switch is present. If it is, you probably have one of the older systems.
Solution: Older radio controls should be replaced with newer radio controls that use "rolling code" technology. A rolling code system selects a new code from 4.3 billion possible combinations each time the system is used, making it nearly impossible for an intruder to ever match the code. New radio controls can usually be added to existing garage door openers without requiring that the opener itself be replaced.
Example of DIP Switch Used in Older Garage Door Transmitters
#13 - Inexpensive Fire Safe Used to Store Valuables
Many homeowners are using an inexpensive fire safe purchased from an office supply store or wholesale club to store their valuables. In several instances, we have seen safes of this type used to store hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry or investment grade precious metal. Safes of this type are intended to provide protection against fire, not burglary, and can be easily compromised by a knowledgeable intruder.
#14 - No Secondary Line of Defense Within The Home
Many homes have no additional locked doors or barriers within the inside of the home. Once a burglar makes his way through an exterior door or window, he has free access to all areas of the home.
Solution: A fundamental element of providing good security involves a concept called "Concentric Circles of Protection". The premise of this concept is that security can be greatly improved by providing multiple "rings" or "layers" of security, each of which must be penetrated in order for an intruder to gain access to the high-value assets within a home.
For example, at the average home, additional "layers" of security can be created by installing deadbolt locks on both the master bedroom door and the master bedroom closet. These doors would be kept closed and locked when the resident was away from the home. High-value assets such as jewelry would be stored in the master bedroom closet. The implementation of these measures would create a condition where there were three "layers" of security: the exterior doors and windows, the master bedroom door, and the master bedroom closet door. A burglar who was intent on stealing jewelry would have to make his way through three doors before achieving his goal. If the home had a safe, and this safe were installed within the master bedroom closet, this would create a fourth layer of security.
Locked master bedroom doors and master bedroom closet doors could also be used to provide secure places to hide in the event that someone forced their way into the premises when the occupants were home. (For additional information on providing protection of residents while at home, see Introduction to Safe Rooms.)
#15 - There is No Inventory of Assets in The Home
Many homeowners fail to keep an inventory of the assets in their home. Consequently, when they are burglarized, they find it difficult to provide the police and their insurance company with an accurate list of what was stolen. It is common to file a burglary report and then continue to find additional items missing weeks and even months after a burglary occurs.
Solution: A complete written inventory that lists all major assets (furnishings, antiques, equipment, jewelry, etc.) in the home should be created. This inventory could be used to provide information to law enforcement agencies and insurance companies in the event that assets were stolen or destroyed.
The inventory should list assets by type and include make, model number, and serial number of each asset. A picture of each asset should also be taken. Pictures are particularly valuable to enable the identification of items such as jewelry or antiques which may not have a serial number and may be difficult to describe. Copies of the inventory and pictures should be stored in secure locations both on and off the premises.
The inventory should be periodically reviewed and updated to add items that have been recently purchased and to delete any items that may have been disposed of.
(Using a cell phone or camcorder to produce a video version of your home inventory is also a good idea, but should be done in addition to, not in place of, the written inventory and pictures recommended above.)
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Please Contact Us if you have any questions or need additional help in planning an effective security program for your home.
For a more comprehensive analysis of your security needs, consider having Silva Consultants conduct a on-site Home Security Assessment at your home.