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I know that hotel room safes have a master key and are not considered very secure.

Let's suppose I'm not worried about theft, but about a person with the master key opening the safe, messing with its contents and then closing it back to the previous combination so I wouldn't even know that anyone opened it.

Is this a possibility?

For the sake of the question, let's ignore techniques that are very complicated or take a long time to do (e.g. dismantling the hardware to read the memory chip, or just brute-forcing the combination), and let's suppose I wiped the keypad so the combination won't be easy to see.

I suppose the question comes down to one thing. Can the master key be used to read the combination?

  • 1
    not sure why this was downvoted (upvote) – user89966 Jan 1 at 14:01
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    Maybe they didn't see the relation to 'travel', but I think there is one. – user90002 Jan 1 at 14:45
  • While not an answer to your question, a paranoid person could place something inconspicuous across the door and frame of the safe and take a reference photo of it to determine if it had been disturbed. EG a single hair held on by saliva. Or cobwebs - if you have access to a trained spider. – Peter M Jan 1 at 16:17
  • That's certainly good advice depending on your level of paranoia. There's already a related question on here 'Is there any way to tell if someone has been through our hotel room' with more answers. In this case I am solely interested in the mechanics of safes to judge if the safe by itself adds a level of evidence or not. – user90002 Jan 1 at 17:42
  • Relevant video I took in a hotel recently... youtu.be/3zrt1XNzSDI – Doc Feb 25 at 19:41
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Hotel room safes are not tamper evident and not particularly safe. Hotel staff (and others) have the capability to open them without evidence. If you need tamper evidence put the contents in a tamper evident bag. This is what many security conscious companies are doing.

Many have an electrical port that a small battery operated device is plugged into and that opens the safe.

In one case it was evident that a laptop had been removed from the safe, disassembled, HD copied and case reassembled but there were a couple of screws that were not properly re-seated.

See Hotel Room Safes: They May Not Be as Safe as You Think for more information.

Excerpt: "These units DO NOT have a hotel override, it reveals the guest PIN."

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    That page reads like an advertisement for their products. Is there a more neutral source for the statement that there are safes that reveal the guest PIN? I've looked through some manuals and some do claim they have an 'audit trail' but it doesn't specify if that trail includes the PIN codes used or just the date/time. Might have to ask the manufacturer. – user90002 Jan 1 at 17:24
  • @A.Rex The site name is : Corporate Travel Safety, not a vendor. Do you find inaccurate information on the site? The site covers many aspect of travel safety. – zaph Jan 1 at 17:34
  • I see, but I can't help but notice that it does have amazon affiliate links to anti-theft products. In my mind, "need tamper evidence" isn't a yes or no thing, there are different levels of (non) evidence and different levels of paranoia. – user90002 Jan 1 at 17:38
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The key can just open the safe and not read the combination.

The key can be used:

  • if the customer forgets his PIN code
  • if the batteries are low and the electronic mechanism does not work anymore
  • if the customer leaves his room without unlocking the safe

Otherwise, you can sue the hotel if you prove that the safe was locked.

The hotel is typically not liable for loss or damage of their guests valuable if the loss was caused by the guest's own fault. ... If you don't use the safe and your valuables are stolen, some states will hold that the hotel is not liable since you could have protected your valuables but did not do so.

  • Thanks! Is this from your own experience or do you have a definite source (e.g. user manual of a commonly used safe) that states exactly this "The key can just open the safe and not read the combination"? I've been looking for this sort of thing but can't find it. – user90002 Jan 1 at 13:56
  • @A.Rex from my own experience. Haven't found anything yet except legalmatch.com/law-library/article/… – user89966 Jan 1 at 14:01
  • I just realized that it is probably in the hotel's own interest that the master key would not be able to read the combination because if it did, a guest could just claim that someone opened the safe, stole something and locked it again, even though the safe hasn't been touched. – user90002 Jan 1 at 15:32
  • @A.Rex true, never thought about that – user89966 Jan 1 at 15:33
  • @A.Rex I will split the question. – zaph Jan 1 at 21:07
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I sent an email with this exact question to several manufacturers of safes that I found from a random google search. This is what I received back:

In four cases, they told me that it is not possible to retrieve the PIN.

In one case, they admitted that it is possible.

In two cases, I received no reply at all.

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