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How Safe Locks Are Rated

Updated on August 1, 2010

How To Rate Safe Locks

Safe locks are a heck of a lot more complicated than you may think. Lock manufacturers are always trying to stay a step ahead of skillful burglars on the prowl in order to give the consumer the sense of protection that they’re paying for.

So, how do we rate safe locks? Excellent question.

Safe locks range in variety, resiliency and complexity, and are rated to reflect those qualities. The leader in rating locks, effectively creating an industry standard is UL (Underwriters Laboratories). They put thousands of locks to the test based on a consistent and totally unbiased system. UL employs teams of professional [ethical] safe crackers to use everything from screwdrivers to explosives test the constitution of a safe, and as relevant to our discussion, the locks.

Though UL has a standard for multiple lock types, as well as extra features like time locking, for our intents and purposes, they break down the safe locking systems into two primary types; combination and electronic locks.

Safe lock handle

This safe lock has definitely been put to the test.
This safe lock has definitely been put to the test.

Combination and Eletronic Locks

Combination Locks

Combination locks are rated mainly based on their overall reliability, and their resistance to manipulation.  Resistance to physical damage isn’t really taken into account, as that’s primarily assessed during the testing of the safe itself.  

Group 2 locks: Combination locks with a Group 2 listing are most common among RSCs (residential security containers).  Most gun safes that you find in sporting good stores are actually RSCs, and not “safes”.  Group 2 locks display resistance to “semi-skilled” safe manipulation; UL awards a passing score to locks that demonstrate the ability to withstand forced entry for 5 minutes during an onslaught of everything from pry bars to high speed carbide drills.

Group 2M: These units are somewhat resistant to “skilled manipulation”.  You’ll most commonly find these locking safes slightly more robust than the average aforementioned RSCs; more resistant to heavy hand and power tools.  

Group 1: These combination locks are “highly resistant” to “expert manipulation”.  These aren’t your average locks; they generally feature a lot of extra bells and whistles, specifically designed to keep out professional burglars.  You may find a lock of this caliber on an explosion resistant safe - even a bank vault.  They’ve been proven to withstand at least 20 hours of expert manipulation.

Group 1R: In the realm of combination locks, 1R is the cream of the crop.  It has all the features and manipulation resistance of Group 1, with the addition the ability to content with radiological attacks.  Extremely savvy professionals have been known to employ X rays and gamma rays to visually reveal the position of the lock’s internal components - not happening on this bad boy.

Electronic Locks

Electronic locks generally operate differently than combination locks and are therefore rated as such.  They’re typically opened by the owner using keypad entry.  All UL listed electronic locks must employ relocker, and have, at the minimum, one million different possible combinations.

Type II: You’ll usually find Type II electronic locks on RSCs and TRTL 15-30 rated safes (TRTL 15 means that the safe has been tested to withstand 15 minutes of attacks with hand and power tools - TRTL 30 signifies 30 minutes).  

Type I: These are incredibly resilient to complex, professional manipulation and can be found on extremely physically robust safes and vaults.

Type IF: These electronic locks have received the highest possible UL rating, and have been tested to comply with FF-L-2740 Federal standards.  These are built to protect units serious about security.

Combination Cracked in Less Than a Minute

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