Over the past two centuries of security research, we have seen not only the technological evolution of security system solutions but also the evolution of how we use these systems to protect people and property alike.
Modern security systems are modular in format, and whether they take the form of explicit internet of things smart security hubs or a collection of individual security systems, protect vital assets in several different ways simultaneously.
Primarily, the physical security systems only need to withstand an attack long enough for the surveillance parts of the systems to capture the offender and raise the alarm, meaning that even a lock that can stop an intruder for a few minutes is often enough to deter an opportunistic intruder.
This was not always the case, and the best illustration of this is through the depictions of one of the UK’s most commonly known locks in one of the world’s best-known detective series.
The Chubb Detector lock was designed to be an unpickable lock that could not be opened using common key duplication methods of the era, winning a contest launched by the UK government after a set of false keys was used to easily rob a Portsmouth Dockyard.
The technique they used was to limit the number of times you could attempt to pick the lock and make the tolerances for attempting to open it without a key before the lock became unusable and needed to be reset.
It was seen to be unpickable, with even jailed locksmiths incentivised with the promise of a pardon if they could pick the lock unable to do so, and this remained the case until 1851 when Alfred Charles Hobbes famously picked it in 25 minutes.
This, along with the more famous picking of the legendary Bramah challenge lock, led to the Lock Controversy of the mid-19th century that fundamentally changed how people saw locks and security systems more broadly.
However, despite this, the Chubb lock remained the exceptionally popular standard for locking systems, appearing in not one but two Sherlock Holmes stories, including one of the most popular in the entire series, and in both cases, the advanced security it provides is an important plot point.
In The Adventure Of The Golden Pince-Nez from 1904, a bureau-style writing desk was said to be locked with a Chubb’s key, which delayed the murderer long enough to protect the contents of the middle drawer.
Meanwhile, A Scandal In Bohemia from 1831 highlights that Irene Adler’s door has a Chubb lock on it, which was also used as a subtle clue to indicate that Ms Adler was capable, independent and security-conscious, to the point that she outwits the great detective’s attempts to steal from her.
The later Dr Thorndyke novels set at a similar time to and heavily inspired by the Sherlock Holmes mysteries explicitly note that burglars do not typically try to pick the Chubb locks because whilst an expert locksmith could pick one quickly, a burglar attempting to do so in a risky situation is more liable to make a mistake that could get them caught.