Pistol Safe’s Poor Design Means Biometric Sensor Bypassed In Seconds

When it comes to safes, mechanical design and physical layout are just as important as the electronic bits. If care isn’t taken, one element can undermine the other. That appears to be the case with this Amazon Basics branded biometric pistol safe. Because of the mechanical design, the fingerprint sensor can be overridden with nothing more than a thin piece of metal — no melted gummi bears and fingerprint impressions involved.

push button to reset safe fingerprint reader
Small button used to register a new fingerprint. It can be reached by inserting a thin shim in the gap between the door and the frame while the safe is closed and locked.

[LockPickingLawyer] has a reputation for exposing the lunacy of poorly-designed locks of all kinds and begins this short video (embedded below) by stating that when attempting to bypass the security of a device like this, he would normally focus on the mechanical lock. But in this case, it’s far more straightforward to simply subvert the fingerprint registration.

This is how it works: the back of the front panel (which is inside the safe) has a small button. When this button is pressed, the device will be instructed to register a new fingerprint. The security of that system depends on this button being inaccessible while the safe is closed. Unfortunately it’s placed poorly and all it takes is a thin piece of metal slid through the thin opening between the door and the rest of the safe. One press, and the (closed) safe is instructed to register and trust a new fingerprint. After that, the safe can be opened in the usual way.

It’s possible that a pistol being present in the safe might get in the way of inserting a metal shim to hit the button, but it doesn’t look like it. A metal lip in the frame, or recessing the reset button could prevent this attack. The sensor could also be instructed to reject reprogramming while the door is closed. In any case, this is a great demonstration of how design elements can affect one another, and have a security impact in the process.

As for fooling sensors in a more traditional sense, here’s a reminder that we’ve seen a 3D printer and a photo of a fingerprint used to defeat a fingerprint sensor.

[via TheFirearmBlog]

38 thoughts on “Pistol Safe’s Poor Design Means Biometric Sensor Bypassed In Seconds

  1. Quite a basic design mistake for a safe, I would say. All serious safes that I know of have doors with overlapping edges, preventing anything to enter the safe.

    Quickest way to open a safe without damaging the contents too much, is to fill it with water and insert an explosive of some sort (doesn’t even need to be a big stick of dynamite). MythBusters taught me that. :) So a safe should be watertight and it shouldn’t be possible to insert anything that can rapidly expand.

  2. So many of his videos are
    “This is a tricky pick” ~ picks it in a minute or two regardless of security pins and other anti-pick measures
    “but there is not need to pick it because …”
    It can be (one or more) raked, zipped, combed, impressioned, shimmed, cut, melted, Ramset, shot, decoded, bypassed.
    He has close to 1000 videos and they are all worth watching

  3. Its made from what looks like barely 1mm thick metal.
    I wouldn’t be wating time trying to bypass the combination, I’d be reaching for the pry bar and maybe even just a screw driver.

    1. There was a movie a number of years back about burglars. (Burt Reynolds?) The older burglar showed the newbie that it was easier to pull the expensive wall safe out of the wall and tear open the thin back of it with a hatchet.

  4. Why not put that pushbutton in a covered recess on the back side of the door? Need an, um, ‘backdoor ‘way of resetting things, “just in case”, you say? Hmmmm…..

    “Security by obscurity” is always a poor paradigm, and “Safety by obscurity” is worse (the purpose of these safes isn’t to prevent theft as much as keeping kids from playing with firearms). Neither will last much past the method being broadcast online (or gossiped in the halls of school).

    Ask Kryptonite Bike Locks (ca. 2004) about that one.

    1. Meh. It’s good enough for the purpose of keeping small kids and the home invader from taking your gun and pointing it at yourself.

      If they have enough time to fiddle with the lock mechanism, they have time to simply bust the thing open anyways.

      1. Agreed that even with this glaring flaw, the safe still does the basic job. An intruder would have to know where the safe is, that it has THIS flaw, have brought a hacksaw blade (or rummaged through your toolbox to find one), and have enough time in the house undetected to register his fingerprint… which would also mean leaving clear proof of his crime.

        All that said, recessing the button or placing a simple ridge in front of it would eliminate this particular flaw with zero increase in cost. In that respect, it’s a pretty horrendous design oversight.

  5. The lesson here is not to buy safes from big box stores or general online retailers such as Amazon and instead if you need something to secure a firearm buy a proper gun safe from a reputable manufacturer/locksmith/website.
    This safe isn’t even good enough to keep a curious teenager (with access to Google) from getting past the lock and getting at the gun (which is the standard LockPickingLawyer generally applies to gun locks and safes)

    1. Sticking to major brands can also be tricky. Often they’re happy to slap their label on a sheet metal box with a $2 combination mechanism and market it as a safe to sporting goods / gun stores. Build quality roughly increases with cost and whether you’re securing guns or a fancy mountain bike from theft you should expect worthwhile security to approach the cost of what you’re protecting.

      1. That’s why you avoid the cheap crap found in those stores (even the cheap name-brand crap) and go to a store (or website) that specializes in security products (e.g. a locksmith) and can sell you a proper safe.

    2. There’s a video showing how to open a Sentry safe that you can buy at a big box store in just a matter of seconds.

      The point is these “safes” are so cheaply and badly made they don’t even deserve the lavel of “safe” they are no better than a shoebox.

      If you want security and safety for your items, you have to pay $$$ and avoid the crap found in retail.

      1. Sure, but what casual burglar is going to bring a huge rare earth magnet with them on the chance that the home they’re breaking into has a $200 Sentry safe?

        While I would agree that these are kind of dumb designs and they are fun to exploit, these products on the whole are fine.

        1. One that has had previous access to your home will come back equipped.
          Someone stole an air compressor and nail gun from a house I was remodeling. Nothing else was taken and the two were not next to each other. I’m assuming it was one of the drywall workers that was in the house the day before. He know where to tools he wanted were and grabbed them before anyone had time to respond to the alarm.

  6. I feel like this type of safe is more to keep a curious toddler from getting their hands on a firearm, than to keep a burglar from stealing it – that’s what a proper safe is for. Although it still should not be this easy to open!

  7. Even with this flaw, I would prefer this be used over nothing. It’s not so much that I want to tell other people how to store their murder tools (yes, I have a bias) as much as in my lifetime I’ve been menaced by gun owners, lost a friend to a negligent discharge (other friend was showing off his dad’s gun), had an acquaintance steal his dad’s gun, commit a string of robberies and go to prison and lost a father figure in a robbery gone wrong. Most of this due to stolen guns.

    So yes, 2A something, something. but for FFS, keep your tools safe from . . . Tools.

    FWIW; it was in the course of taking classes to become a CCW holder that I learned that the biggest threat to myself and my family was my firearm. I did my best to rationalize how I was an exception to the statistic, and did pretty well at it for a time.

    With all of that written, I do respect John from Active Self Protection and think he has a lot to lessons to offer regardless of where one lands on gun ownership.

    1. >” I did my best to rationalize how I was an exception to the statistic, and did pretty well at it for a time.”

      Here’s one: statistics like these and the people who make the argument against gun ownership take the average risk over a population which actually hides the causes and conditions causing the risk, and then pretend that these risks apply evenly to the whole population.

      To make a similar case, take the risk of dying in a car accident. The number of road fatalities includes a great number of people who have car accidents because they were DUI. Taking this risk as applying over the entire population is equal to saying everyone is about 30% likely to die driving drunk.

      The fallacy behind the argument is Faulty Generalization. The general form of the argument is:

      The proportion Q of the sample has attribute A.
      Therefore, the proportion Q of the population has attribute A.

      1. “is equal to saying everyone is about 30% likely to die driving drunk.”

        More accurately: the averaged risk of dying in a car accidents includes 30% cases who died because they were driving drunk. Therefore assuming the average risk applies to you is assuming that you drive drunk frequently enough to increase your risk by that proportion. It is perfectly apparent, if you choose to never drive drunk, your personal risk of dying in a road accident is far less than the average.

        Same thing with the guns. The average risk isn’t your fate – simple statistical arguments are nearly always faulty.

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