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Security Of Desks and File Cabinets

Confidential information is often stored in desks or file cabinets. This confidential information can include personnel records, marketing plans, research and development plans, secret formulas and other types of sensitive information. In some cases, people also store cash, negotiable securities and other high value assets in desks or file cabinets.

Many people think that their assets are safe if they are stored in a locking desk drawer or locking cabinet. This is far from the truth.

Most of the locks typically used on desks and file cabinets are simple locks that can be compromised in a number of ways.

First, most locks used on desks and file cabinets use a standard "factory" lock provided by the furniture manufacturer. In many cases, the manufacturer provides only a small number of different key combinations. Some manufacturers provide as few as twenty different keys. This means that it is highly probable that the key to your desk also fits hundreds of other desks produced by the same manufacturer. This also means that it is highly probable that hundreds of other people have a key that fits your desk!

This can be a particular problem in large companies that have standardized on a particular brand of furniture. In these companies, it is very likely that many desks and file cabinets will be keyed alike. This usually means that one employee's desk key will probably work on dozens of other desks and file cabinets throughout the organization.

The second weakness of standard factory locks on desks and file cabinets is that they usually have a key number printed on them. This is usually a three or four digit code that is stamped on the face of the lock. This number tells which key fits the lock, and allows a duplicate key to be ordered from the furniture manufacturer or from any locksmith.

A person who wanted to gain access to your desk or file cabinet could simply look at your lock and get the key number. He could then look around the company to see if he could find a key with a matching number. If unsuccessful, he could simply go to the corner locksmith and order a key. This person would now have access to your desk or file cabinet anytime he wanted, and you would be none the wiser.

Finally, most standard factory locks used on desks and file cabinets are easily "picked" open. Anyone with a set of lock picks or even a paperclip can usually open these locks in very little time. Unlike door locks, which usually require some level of skill to "pick", desk and file cabinet locks can usually be opened by almost anyone.

The conclusion: standard desk and file cabinet locks provide almost no security. They should not be used to store high value assets or confidential information.


  • File cabinets that are used to store low-to-medium value assets should be equipped with locking "slidebars". These slidebars mount on the exterior of the file cabinet and are locked using a padlock. When locked, the slidebars prevent the file drawers from being opened. High-security padlocks (such as the Medeco) should be used with the slidebars instead of regular padlocks. Slidebars and high-security padlocks are available from most of the larger locksmithing companies.

  • High value assets should be stored in a burglary-rated file cabinet or burglary-rated safe. "Burglary-rated" means that the file cabinet or safe has been designed to resist break-ins and has been tested by an independent testing laboratory (most often UL). Burglary-rated file cabinets and safes should be purchased from a reputable safe and vault company.

  • Fire-rated file cabinets and safes are designed to resist fire, not to resist break-in! Many fire-rated file cabinets and safes use the same type of "factory lock" described above and provide very little security. Look at the UL label on your file cabinet or safe to determine how it is rated. If unsure, consult a safe and vault specialist.

  • Remove the key number from your desk and file cabinet locks. This number can usually be removed easily using sandpaper or a small metal file. (Be sure to write down the number on the inside of the drawer for future reference.)

If you have questions, or need help in securing your confidential information, please contact us.

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