• Smart locks are designed to stop burglars and hackers
  • Facial recognition security cameras have arrived
  • Invisible DNA tagging is helping to solve crimes

Despite a decline in the last 20 years, burglaries have suddenly spiked according to the latest Crime Survey and Office for National Statistics figures. Comprehensive home insurance will help protect your finances – but can tech prevent break-ins in the first place? 

Moore’s Law states that computer-based technology doubles in sophistication every two years, and that includes home security gadgets. That’s according to Rick Mounfield, chief executive of the Security Institute (@SyInstitute), the UK’s top not-for-profit organisation advising the industry on best practice.

‘The aim is to deter, delay and detect,’ says Rick, a former protection specialist with the Royal Military Police who subsequently advised billionaires on beating burglars. ‘Mixing people – i.e. the police – with technology creates an unattractive environment for criminals.’

Somebody holding a smartphone up against a door handle which has a bluetooth attachment on it

Under Bluetooth lock and key

A lock is often as good as its physical size and scale, says Rick, but smart locks come with added benefits. They work by using a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone as activation and can generate guest codes for friends and family – perfect if a neighbour needs to feed the cat.

The Yale Conexis L1 includes a tamper alert notifying you if someone tries to break in and integrates with Yale burglar alarms and CCTV systems. If you still prefer an old-fashioned key, the Master Lock Bluetooth Lock Box saves you from keeping a spare under the doormat. It also includes a tamper alert and generates temporary access for friends, family or tradespeople.

Smart locks need protecting from hackers, so look for devices with top-level encryption and made by a reputable name.

‘If the backdoor encryption is weak it can be used against you and a lot of security tech innovators are not dealing with cyber security issues,’ says Rick. ‘Look for locks secured with 256AES encryption, which is the hardest level you can get.’

A young girl opening up a box that is attached to a wall right beside a door

Caught on camera

Rick has just installed a Nest Cam IQ in his office. The WiFi-connected camera is similar to many on the market, such as the weatherproof Canary Flex, where you can view footage from anywhere in the world on a mobile phone with an internet connection.

The devices alert you if triggered by sound or motion, largely rely on a paid-for subscription to store clips in the cloud, and include two-way audio so you can hear what’s happening and spook burglars.

A Nest thermometer on a wall with a pool and some children in the background

Nest’s newest hatchling is a breakthrough, though, because it automatically tracks individuals via facial recognition – similar to video analytics on top-spec security systems costing 10 times the price. It also features a 4K sensor to digitally zoom in on individuals and pans to follow motion, all with unrivalled picture quality for the price.

‘They’re a really good value budget idea,’ says Rick. ‘You could be on holiday anywhere, look at what’s going on at home and call the police. Place the camera to cover outside approaches to the house and catch intruders at the earliest opportunity.’

The Nest Cam IQ costs £299, but ‘cost-effective cameras can be purchased for as little as £150,’ says Rick.

Invisible security

More than two thirds of burglaries go unsolved, according to official police data. But invisible DNA tagging from SelectaDNA (@selectadna) could bring more criminals to justice with a dose of forensic genius. It works by marking possessions with a unique code that shows up under ultraviolet light and is identified as yours under a microscope.

Somebody using a cotton bud to swab DNA

‘Property should be uniquely marked and forensic tagging with DNA products is a popular way to do this,’ says a Thames Valley Police spokesperson.

James Brown, SelectaDNA MD, adds: ‘If a thief has broken into your home they will target your most valuable items first – PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones, anything they can sell on quickly.

‘However, if each valuable item they come across is marked with a synthetic DNA solution and is displaying a warning sticker, then the chances of the thief stealing it drops dramatically – criminals know that DNA is the police’s most powerful weapon in securing convictions.’

DNA tagging is relatively inexpensive at around £1 an item and the technology is being taken to new levels. Intruders doused with the microscopic mist from an automated spray will glow under ultraviolet light for months, conclusively pinning them to the location.

Plus, if you buy a SelectaDNA product, your valuables automatically get signed up to their Secure Asset Register, which, like Immobilise, can be accessed by police forces who are tracking down your items.

‘I recommend this stuff as a detection and evidence-based solution,’ says Rick. ‘There is also a grease for smearing drain pipes and fences so if anyone tries to climb them they’ll be covered in the stuff.’

Hiding your home away

The super-rich are using invisibility in a different way: Hidden Hills is a gated Californian community that has banned Google Street View and attempted to erase its existence from the internet. Described as an ‘urban-scale non-disclosure agreement’ by Geoff Manaugh, author of A Burglar’s Guide To The City. US homeowners are also taking their homes off the grid and generating their own electricity and water for increased privacy. 

Rick’s top tip for privacy here is to request a CO1 form from 192.com to remove yourself from their database.

‘Most people don’t realise the personal information that can be accessed for a nominal fee simply by entering your name,’ he says. ‘Download the form, send it back and get taken off.’

Just remember: deter, delay and detect is the name of the game. Top tech could be your greatest crime fighter to help you prevent burglaries.

Follow James (@James_A_Day‏) on Twitter for more tech tips, news and stories.