Modify Locks to Baffle Burglars

While it’s often thought of as a criminal activity, there’s actually a vibrant hobby community surrounding the art of lock picking. In the same way that white hat hackers try to break into information systems to learn the ways that they can be made stronger, so do those in the locksport arena try to assess the weaknesses of various locks. For the amateur, it can be exciting (and a little unnerving) to experience the ease at which a deadbolt can be picked, and if your concern is great enough, you can go a little farther and modify your locks to make them harder to defeat.

The lock in question was sent to [bosnianbill] by [Rallock67] with a device that [Rallock67] had installed using common tools. Known as a Murphy Ball, a larger-than-normal spring was inserted into one of the pins and held in place by a ball bearing. This makes the lock almost completely immune to bumping, and also made it much more difficult for [bosnianbill], an accomplished and skilled locksmith, to pick the lock due to the amount of force the spring exerted on the cylinder. The surprising thing here was that this modification seems to be relatively easy to do by tapping out some threads and inserting a set screw to hold in the spring.

Locksport and lockpicking are a great hobby to get into. Most people start out picking small padlocks due to their simplicity and ease. It’s even possible to pick some locks with a set of bobby pins. And, if you really want to see how easy it is to defeat some locks and/or how much good the TSA does for your overall security, you’ll want to take a look at this, too.

Thanks to [TheFinn] for the tip!

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3D Printing Lock Picks

Over at the 23B hackerspace in Fullerton, CA, [Dano] had an interesting idea. He took a zip tie, and trimmed it to have the same profile of a lock pick. It worked. Not well, mind you, but it worked. After a few uses, the pick disintegrated, but still the concept of picks you can take through a TSA checkpoint was proven.

A few days after this demonstration, [C] realized he had a very fancy Objet 3D printer at work, and thought printing some pics out would be an admirable goal. After taking an image of some picks through the autotracer in Solidworks, [C] had an STL that could be printed on a fancy, high-end 3D printer. The printer ultimately used for these picks was a Objet 30 Pro, with .001″ layer thickness and 600dpi resolution. After receiving the picks, [C] dug out an old lock and went to town. The lock quickly yielded to the pick, and once again the concept of plastic lock picks was proven.

Although the picks worked, there were a few problems: only half the picks were sized appropriately to fit inside a lock. Two picks also broke within 15 minutes, something that won’t happen with traditional metal picks.

Still, once the models are figured out, it’s easy to reproduce them time and time again. A perfect lock pick design is then trivial, and making an injection mold becomes possible. They might still break, but they’ll be far easier to manufacture and simple to replace.

Picking locks with Toool

What Maker Faire would be complete without teaching children the joys of jiggling and twisting locks until they’ve opened? Toool, the open organisation of lockpickers made their way to New York this weekend to show off their bumping skills and get the kids interested in manipulating small mechanical devices.

The guys from Toool had a very cool setup – just a bunch of tables and chairs with a few picks and torsion wrenches. There were a few classic Master Locks on the table, but also a series of six tumbler locks each labeled with a number 1 through 6 signifying how many pins were in the lock. The idea is to get someone started on a one-pin lock, and eventually have them work their way up to the full six pins.

In the video after the break, one of the more animated guys from Toool explains why they were there, and also shows off picking a Master Lock twice in under 30 seconds. Seriously, people: educate yourself on locks before buying one.

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Marc Weber Tobias vs Medeco


This month’s Wired magazine has an extensive profile of [Marc Weber Tobias]. He’s a professional lock picker that delights in coming up with new techniques for taking on high security locks. In recent years, he’s run afoul of the US’s premier high security lock manufacturer, Medeco, by publishing Open in Thirty Seconds with [Tobias Bluzmanis]. Medeco still denies that this is even possible. Wired decided to to test the team by purchasing six new cylinders and timing them. Each one was open in under nine minutes. You can see a video of this on Wired’s site.

Last fall we covered a decoding attack against Medeco locks by [Jon King].

[via blackbag]

Acrylic tumbler lock


Sometimes describing how a lock actually works can be the hardest part of teaching someone about lockpicking. [Mike Gee] has designed an acrylic lock that may just be the ticket for these situations. All of the pieces are cut from clear acrylic. As you insert the key, you can see it raise the four pins up to the shear line. He says that it will definitely take some tweaking as you assemble it to get it to function smoothly. Embedded below is a video of the lock in use. You can find plans on Thingiverse.

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Medeco high security lock picking

Despite, Hack a Day seeming to be fairly lock heavy lately, we’ve yet to cover a major story from The Last HOPE. At the conference, [Jon King] talked about vulnerabilities in Medeco locks and presented his Medecoder tool. Medeco is really what makes this story interesting; unlike the EU, the US has very few high security lock manufacturers. You pretty much have to use Medeco and it’s found in many government agencies.

The Medeco locks have a vertical row of six pins arranged like most pin tumbler locks. Unlike your average lock, the rotation of the pins is important. When the key is placed in the lock, it not only moves the pins to the correct height, it also rotates them to the correct orientation. A sidebar blocks the cylinder unless the pins are rotated properly. Each pin has three possible orientations. They’re biaxial as well, which means the pin’s offset point allows for three more possible positions.

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HOPE 2008: Methods of Copying High Security Keys

[Barry Wels] is well known for his lockpicking talks, but this year he wanted to talk about how he copies high security keys. If a key blank is available, you could make a copy just by viewing the original. High security keys generally have profiles with more side cuts, which means you can guess at how deep a specific pin is by observing how many cuts it crosses. He also showed that you could imprint your arm with the key and use that as a guide. If a blank isn’t available, you could fill a similar key with solder and file that down.

[Barry] showed two different kits for casting keys. The first used soft clay in a clam shell to make an imprint of the original key. The form is then filled with a low melting point alloy (probably Wood’s metal) to create the new key. A second style uses a metal form and two part silicone to create the mold. This method works for most high security keys, but will not work on keys with active elements like sliders or magnets.

Finally, [Barry] talked about his favorite method: impressioning. Unlike picking a lock, when you’re done impressioning you have a funtional key. You start with key blank and file off the top layer. Place the blank in the lock and turn it till it jams. Then, you rock the key up and down. Observing the key under light you’ll see a small mark where each pin is. File a bit where the marks appear and repeat the process. You can’t use too much force or you might break the blank. This also works on dimple keys and as this video shows, laser cut keys. [Barry] highly recommends the impressioning book by [Oliver Diederichsen].

[photo: Rija 2.0]