How Safe Is Your Safe?

When considering buying or installing a new safe, there are many factors that come into play. However, the first question you must answer is what you intend to protect in your safe.

Examine The Contents

Is the purpose of your safe to hide a key outside in case you lock yourself out of the house? Are you hoping to protect the antique rifle your grandfather handed down to you? Or do you have a copy of your will or other important papers that you want to protect in case of a house fire? These are the kinds of questions that will help you begin to narrow down what kind of safe you need.

While safe manufacturers claim to sell those that meet the requirements of both fire and burglary, generally speaking you have to first assess which is your greater need. “Fire safes are reinforced with fire retardant materials but have little in the way of actual protection against unwanted entry. The typical burglary safe is built to withstand a considerable attack. But due to their reinforced steel frames and iron cladding, the burglary safe tends to act like an oven; effectively cooking the contents when exposed to heat or flame” (source: Valdes). For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the burglary safe; however within the category of burglary safe, there are even further break-downs – gun safes, diversion safes (i.e., made to look like a pop can), luxury safes, and even laptop safes.

How Valuable Are Your Valuables?

After determining what you desire to protect, the next step is to decide on a general budget. Since safes range in price from less than $10 for the stone diversion safe, to $49,000 for the SLS Gem Anti-lance TXTL60 (the bidding starts at $49,000), you have to know what you can afford. While not many of us will have a need for the $49,000 safe – which, by the way, is one of the rarest safes in existence since only 4 were ever manufactured – not many of us will have a need to protect the “precious jewels of Great Britain royalty,” (which is why the SLS Gem Anti-lance TXTL60 was created), either. Nevertheless, it helps to determine how much to spend on the safe once you have a clear picture of how valuable the contents are that will be housed inside.

Where Will You Put Your Safe?

If you are purchasing a stand-alone or diversion safe, then deciding where to put it is really a matter of convenience and space. But consider before you buy that the most popular method of safe-cracking is to “…simply steal the entire safe and move it to a location where the safe-cracker has the time and tools to take the safe apart and remove its contents” (source: Valdes). The obvious benefit of a built-in safe is that it cannot be removed, but the difficulty – especially when retrofitting into an existing home – is deciding where to put it.

There are two basic locations for the built-in safe: floor or wall. While the floor safe cannot be hauled off by a thief, it only takes one leak – or even an overflow from your bathtub – for water to seep into the safe and ruin any paperwork stored there. Also, it is very difficult to retrofit a floor safe for obvious reasons, which leads us to the better option – the wall safe.

A wall safe is “actually built into your wall and…can easily be concealed by a wall painting, a bookshelf or by a built in sliding panel”.

This wall safe features a built-in picture frame with remote control access. To operate the safe, simply enter your access code (4-10 digits) on the remote control to deactivate the lock and then slide the door/picture frame to the right or left. The remote control uses RF technology. The remote control is designed to work at a distance of up to 45 feet and does not require line of slight to work. The remote control is powered by rechargeable batteries. Two (2) mechanical backup keys are provided for emergency access in case of battery failure. This wall safe has been specifically designed to be mounted into a standard residential wall with at least 2×4 construction and wall studs of at least sixteen (16) inches on center apart.An instructional installation DVD is included making installation a breeze (source: Nationwide Safes).

There are many types of wall safes, and this is just one example. However, the benefits are easy to see – it can be added to your home before or after construction, easily accessed, and well-hidden from thieves. And the price? This particular safe retails for $489.

Of course, if you really want to conceal your wall safe, you can have it installed inside your hidden room. Remember the picture that was at the top of this post? Were you able to locate the safe in that room? It’s actually in the hidden room behind the rotating cabinet.


Safe Manipulation Versus Lock Manipulation

The easiest way for a thief to gain the contents of your safe is to steal the whole safe and open it at his leisure. That is why, as we mentioned in the previous article, the ‘safest safes’ are those that are installed in the walls of your home. So assuming the thief is going to have to open the safe on the premises, his biggest obstacle is time.

Keeping in that in mind, there are two basic types of safe cracking: safe manipulation and lock manipulation. Safe manipulation includes drilling, torching, exploding – basically any method of getting into your safe that doesn’t involve having to figure out the combination. This is what Valdes considers the “low road”. The “high road”, then, is lock manipulation. “Lock manipulation represents safecracking at its most pure form.”

Lock Manipulation

While safe cracking does require listening carefully while turning the dial on a safe, that is where TV/movies and reality part ways. Beyond just listening, the thief must also graph results, repeating the process over and over, until they have narrowed down to the most probable numbers in the combination. And since there is no way to determine what order the numbers are in, they then must begin working through all the possible combinations of those numbers. The more numbers in the combination, the more possibilities.

The bottom line is that cracking the code on a safe is both labor and time intensive, which is why, “Lock manipulation is used more by locksmiths than safecrackers because of the skill and time needed to pull it off” (source: Valdes). That leaves safe manipulation.

Safe Manipulation

“The most common method safecrackers use to manipulate the safe itself is drilling” (source: Valdes). As a counter measure, many safe manufacturers have installed cobalt plates, which prevent a common drill bit from ever penetrating the lock. It may be possible to drill through using a diamond or titanium bit, but the thief will go through several drills as “as the bits will outlast the motors” and will take a whole lot of time (source: Valdes).

Another option for the thief is to drill above the cobalt plate in an attempt to see the locking mechanism using a fiber-optic camera called a borescope. However, the counter measure to this is a relocker that “is tripped when the safecracker’s drill bit breaks a sheet of glass or plastic while drilling into the lock” (source: Valdes) Once the relocker is tripped, only a locksmith or safe technician can open the safe.

Other than drilling, the thief can also attempt to cut a hole in the side of your safe – assuming he can remove it from the wall – using oxy-acetylene torches, plasma cutters and thermic lances. Or he can simply attempt to explode it on the premises using nitroglycerin. Of course, these methods generate noise, smoke and require skills that not all thieves have.

So, are you feeling better about your safe? Think again.

What Can You Do To Protect Your Valuables?

No matter what kind of safe you purchase, all safes “…[contain] a fundamental weakness: Every safe must be accessible to a locksmith or other authority in the event of a malfunction or lock-out. This weakness forms the basis of safecracking.” (source: Valdes).

So how do most thieves break into a safe? The answer may surprise you.

Change The Try-Out Combination

“All safes are shipped from the manufacturer with try-out combinations. Ideally a safe owner resets the try-out combination after purchasing the safe. This doesn’t happen as often as you would think. Many safe owners simply buy the safe and use the try-out combination; making their safe easy prey for safecrackers. The try-out combinations for most safes are an industry standard and widely known by both locksmiths and safecrackers” (source: Valdes). So change the combination after your safe is installed!

Keep The Code a Secret

“Surprisingly, many people write the combination down near the safe, if not on the safe itself.” (source: Valdes) Obviously, the smart thief will begin his attempt to crack open your safe by looking around for the combination. So the obvious solution is keep the combination in a secure location, away from the safe itself!

Despite what you may have seen in the movies, safe-cracking is a rare form of burglary. Just having one does not prevent a thief from attempting to steal its contents, but armed with a little knowledge, you can keep your valuables safe inside your safe.

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