A robotic machine turning the wheel of a safe

Adventures In Robotic Safe Cracking

When [Zach Hipps] was faced with a locked safe and no combination, it seemed like calling a locksmith was the only non-destructive option. Well, that or doing something crazy like building a safe-opening robot. Since you’re reading this on Hackaday, we bet you can guess which path he took.

So far, [Zach] has managed to assemble the custom chuck and spindle for the safe cracker. This construction is then mated with an appropriately precise Trinamic controller for the motor, which is perfect for this heist project. After some early consternation around the motor’s stall detection capabilities, the project was able to move forward with extra microcontroller code to ensure that the motor disengages when sensing a ‘hard stop’ during cracking.

Precision is absolutely essential in a project like this. When dealing with a million potential combinations, any potential misconfiguration of the robot could cause it to lose its place and become out-of-sync with the software. This was encountered during testing — while the half-assembled robot was (spoilers) able to open a safe with a known combination, it was only able to do so at slow speed. For a safe with an unknown combination, this slow pace would be impractical.

While the robot isn’t quite ready yet, the Part 1 video below is a great introduction to this particular caper. While we wait for the final results, make sure to check out our previous coverage of another auto dialing robot cracking the code in less than a minute.

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A machine that holds a combination padlock and turns its dial, with two padlocks next to it

Robot Opens Master Combination Locks In Less Than A Minute

A common trope in bank heist B-movies is someone effortlessly bypassing a safe’s combination lock. Typically, the hero or villain will turn the dial while listening to the internal machinery, then deduce the combination based on sounds made by the lock. In real life, high-quality combination locks are not vulnerable to such simple attacks, but cheap ones can often be bypassed with a minimum of effort. Some are so simple that this process can even be automated, as [Mew463] has shown by building a machine that can open a Master combination lock in less than a minute.

A machine that holds a combination padlock and turns its dialThe operating principle is based on research by Samy Kamkar from a couple of years ago. For certain types of Master locks, the combination can be found by applying a small amount of pressure on the shackle and searching for locations on the dial where its movement becomes heavier. A simple algorithm can then be used to completely determine the first and third numbers, and find a list of just eight candidates for the second number.

[Mew463]’s machine automates this process by turning the dial with a stepper motor and pulling on the shackle using a servo and a rack-and-pinion system. A magnetic encoder is mounted on the stepper motor to determine when the motor stalls, while the servo has its internal position encoder brought out as a means of detecting how far the shackle has moved. All of this is controlled by an Arduino Nano mounted on a custom PCB together with a TMC2208 stepper driver.

The machine does its job smoothly and quickly, as you can see in the (silent) video embedded below. All design files are available on the project’s GitHub page, so if you’ve got a drawer full of these locks without combinations, here’s your chance to make them sort-of-useful again. After all, these locks’ vulnerabilities have a long history, and we’ve even seen automated crackers before.

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Turning A Single Bolt Into A Combination Lock

In our search for big-box convenience, we tend to forget that locksmiths once not only copied keys but also created complex locks and other intricate mechanisms from scratch. [my mechanics] hasn’t forgotten, and building a lock is his way of celebrating of the locksmith’s skill. Building a combination lock from a single stainless bolt is probably also showing off just a little, and we’re completely fine with that.

Granted, the bolt is a rather large one – an M20x70 – and a few other materials such as brass rod and spring wire were needed to complete the lock. But being able to look at a single bolt and slice it up into most of the stock needed for the lock is simply amazing. The head became the two endplates, while the shank was split in half lengthwise and crosswise after the threads were turned off; those pieces were later turned down into the tubes and pins needed to create the lock mechanism. The combination wheels probably could have come from another – or longer – bolt, but we like the look of the brass against the polished stainless, as well as the etched numbers and subtle knurling. The whole thing is a locksmithing tour de force, and the video below captures all of it without any fluff or nonsense.

If working in steel and brass isn’t your thing, fear not – a 3D-printed combination lock is probably within your reach. Or laser cut wood. Or even plain paper, if you’re not into the whole security thing.

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3D Printing A Combination Lock

Combination locks! They’re great if you’re skilled at remembering arbitrary strings of numbers, and have a dramatic flair that’s made them a famous part of many a heist movie. They come in a wide variety of styles, and are vulnerable to a different set of attacks than the more typical pin-tumbler locks used on a household basis. If you fancy tinkering with a combination lock, why not 3D print one yourself?

It goes without saying that any lock you 3D print is going to have issues with strength. Such a lock should not be used to protect anything of real value, but it could be handy to prevent the kids getting at the Halloween candy you’re saving for October.

Regardless, 3D printing and assembling your own combination lock is a great way to learn about how they work. It’s a fun project that is also much easier than sourcing and disassembling the real thing. For a greater understanding of the underlying mechanism, this video should make the basic operation clear.

That’s not all 3D printing can offer to the locksport community, of course. You can always print your own keys, too. Video after the break. Continue reading “3D Printing A Combination Lock”

Opening A Ford With A Robot And The De Bruijn Sequence

The Ford Securicode, or the keyless-entry keypad available on all models of Ford cars and trucks, first appeared on the 1980 Thunderbird. Even though it’s most commonly seen on the higher-end models, it is available as an option on the Fiesta S — the cheapest car Ford sells in the US — for $95. Doug DeMuro loves it. It’s also a lock, and that means it’s ready to be exploited. Surely, someone can build a robot to crack this lock. Turns out, it’s pretty easy.

The electronics and mechanical part of this build are pretty simple. An acrylic frame holds five solenoids over the keypad, and this acrylic frame attaches to the car with magnets. There’s a second large protoboard attached to this acrylic frame loaded up with an Arduino, character display, and a ULN2003 to drive the resistors. So far, everything you would expect for a ‘robot’ that will unlock a car via its keypad.

The real trick for this build is making this electronic lockpick fast and easy to use. This project was inspired by [Samy Kamkar]’s OpenSesame attack for garage door openers. In this project, [Samy] didn’t brute force a code the hard way by sending one code after another; (crappy) garage door openers only look at the last n digits sent from the remote, and there’s no penalty for sending the wrong code. In this case, it’s possible to use a De Bruijn sequence to vastly reduce the time it takes to brute force every code. Instead of testing tens of thousands of different codes sequentially, this robot only needs to test 3125, something that should only take a few minutes.

Right now the creator of this project is putting the finishing touches on this Ford-cracking robot. There was a slight bug in the code that was solved by treating the De Bruijn sequence as circular, but now it’s only a matter of time before a 1993 Ford Taurus wagon becomes even more worthless.

Teardown: An Electronic Master Lock

[rohare] has an interesting teardown for us over on the keypicking lock picking forums. It’s a Masterlock combination lock – specifically the Masterlock 1500eXD – and yes, it’s a completely electronic lock with buttons and LEDs. Think that’s the mark of a terrible lock? You might be surprised.

The first impressions of this lock were surprisingly positive. It was heavy, the shackle doesn’t move at all when you pull on it. Even the buttons and LEDs made sense. Once the back of the lock was drilled open, things got even more impressive. This lock might actually be well-built, with a ‘butterfly’ mechanism resembling a legendary padlock, actuated by a small but sufficient motor. Even the electronics are well-designed, with the programming port blocked by the shackle when it’s closed. [rohare] suspects the electronics aren’t made by Masterlock, but they are installed in a very secure enclosure.

The teardown concludes with a fair assessment that could also be interpreted as a challenge: [rohare] couldn’t find any obvious flaws to be exploited, or a simple way to break the lock. He concludes the most probable way of breaking this lock would be, “knowing some trick of logic that bypasses the codes on the electronics”. That sounds like a good enough challenge for us, and we’re eagerly awaiting the first person to digitally unlock this physical lock.

Combination Lock Made Out Of Paper

Most projects we feature are of the metal/wire/wood variety, but there is an entire community devoting to making very interesting and intricate things out of paper. Imgur user [Criand] has been hard at work on his own project made entirely out of paper, a combination lock that can hold a secret message (reddit post).

The motivation for the project was as a present for a significant other, wherein a message is hidden within a cryptex-like device and secured with a combination that is of significance to both of them. This is similar to how a combination bike lock works as well, where a series of tumblers lines up to allow a notched shaft to pass through. The only difference here is that the tiny parts that make up the lock are made out of paper instead of steel.

This project could also be used to gain a greater understanding of lock design and locksport, if you’ve ever been curious as to how this particular type of lock works, although this particular one could easily be defeated by a pair of scissors (but it could easily cover rock). If papercraft is more of your style though, we’ve also seen entire gyroscopes and strandbeests made of paper!