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Lock Picking – A Basic Guide (hackthis.co.uk)
252 points by hackthisuk on Jan 2, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments



I taught myself how to pick locks my final year of high school - in France, high school students have to take the "baccalauréat", a set of exams that cover everything you've studied in high school, in all subjects. It spans the course of 2 weeks or so, and you get 1 week to prepare before it.

I hadn't been doing so hot in high school (writing assembly for my TI-83's z80 was more fun than reading Shakespeare and doing derivatives), so my parents locked my laptop in the attic for me to focus on revising during that week.

Of course, I spent a few hours reading at the local library on lock picking, and managed to get my laptop from the attic on the first day (the lock was a fairly old model too, which helps). I spent the rest of the revision week writing C and hanging out in IRC :')

For the record, I did pretty well on the baccalauréat :)


Similar thing happened with my when I was ~14, except it was the family desktop -- laptops were way too expensive for us back then -- and they had a lock on a power switch that led up to the computer. Learned to pick locks and got extensively lectured about why I shouldn't do things just because I can. My parents eventually gave up on trying to lock my out of the PC(after trying BIOS passwords, OS-level passwords and combination locks).

Funnily enough, I learned C when I was supposed to be studying for the baccalauréat. I'd learned programming in BASIC for a casio calculator(mainly for making games and a few solvers for things that we were supposed to solve manually in exams but that were too tedious). A friend of mine linked me to http://siteduzero.com/ (apparently it's changed to http://fr.openclassrooms.com/ recently) and I ended up not studying. That really hurt me in History, Geography and Biology(which require a lot of memorization) but otherwise I breezed through everything else.

PS: I'm not in France but in a country where the french baccalauréat is considered equivalent to the state-mandated exams(Lebanon, used to be under French mandate).


I am going to make a new word, "learnacrastinator", "learnicrastor" (feel free to fix/expound). One who learns a subject or skill while procrastinating studying for another.


I saw a great point in some article the other week about why Ph.d students end up doing all these incredible things in their free time - it's all an elaborate way of procrastinating from finishing their theses.


Maybe "procrastilearner"?


I like that better.

The word, not the fact you've just described my life.


Story of my life


Fixing bugs in a large open-source project while I should have been studying for major exams was what landed me a Google Summer of Code position, which (I assume) is what landed me an interview at a major tech company.

Safe to say that a huge proportion of my current income is directly due to "productive procrastination" :)


"educrastination" - the act of learning something while procrastinating about doing something else.


A lot less glorious but in junior high school, some old ATX computer cases had a keylock connected to the motherboard, with BIOS support it would stop before bootloading. Being locked out of the computer being the best motivation, I dared to open and disconnect the wires and ran the computer innocently, after all, I never took the keys so it looked an error on my parents side.


Pardon the self-promotion, but this hits a bit close to my area. If you'd like a much more comprehensive guide:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL66CD42F86F3A1F85&feat...

I also cover disc detainers, and a bunch of other stuff. I'm shooting a new series on lock forensics presently, just got a great microscope that can take my DSLR for high def microscopy.


Self promotion is no issue when you have high quality content! I started picking locks recently for fun and your guide on YouTube is one of my favourite resources. It's also my go-to whenever trying to show someone in a minute or two the gist of lockpicking.

To find you on Hacker News is a pleasant surprise =] Keep up the good work!


Thanks for the kind words! Really appreciate it and always happy to bump into folks who know my work. My name on here comes from one of my 5 favorite locks, the Emhart interlocking pin system: http://www.lockwiki.com/index.php/Corbin_Emhart

It was invented by Leo Raskevicius, who sadly passed away years ago. In his original patent he actually made provisions for a magnetic version as well. Brilliant guy. Sadly the lock isn't made anymore.


check out picked locks under an electron microscope.

http://pumpingstationone.org/2013/12/lock-picking-and-sem/

you can actually tell which ones were picked.


<3 PS1. In Ollie's seminal "Impressioning" he also used SEM to look at keys as they were impressioning locks.


oohh i'm going to have to dig to find the one on impressioning


I'm not sure if this is what he was talking about, but it seems like this is related:

DEFCON 19: "Key Impressioning" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8QnG5RHyq8


Definitely related, and datagram & I covered the basics the year prior as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-PqzkoQQ7s


A much cheaper and easier approach that works for most locks is to get a coke bottle and tear a strip out of it, then use it to do the 'hollywood credit card trick'.

unlike a credit card it doesn't snap or break very easily - the type of plastic will become softer when placed under pressure and is very flexible but strong - if you continue to force it in the right area it will work its way around hard corners and into tiny gaps until there is enough pressure to pop the bolt. when the bolt has an edge that is sloped towards you it will pop on the first push (the way i see most 'yale style' locks fitted on doors that open inwards - i.e. most front doors)

it takes an exceptionally tightly fitted door frame to prohibit this (e.g. one with brushes or hermetic seals)

the one time i couldn't break into my own home doing this was because there was a brush fitted down the side of the door - fortunately there was not one fitted in the letter box, so i found a long spanner at a nearby construction site and then spent the next four hours of my life whacking the mechanism from through the letterbox blindly until i caught the handle the right way and the door popped open...


I did this a few times when I was a student. A variant on this is to wedge a kitchen knife between the door frame and the door jamb. Sure some paint gets damaged but it gets you in...

Another use for the coke-bottle strip is with padlocks - simply push inside and it opens using the method you describe on most of them.

In fact there are so many ways to get round a lock that going to all of the trouble of picking it is rather quaint. Here are some common things that happen:

Emergency services - they go straight for the 'Big Key' which is that battering ram we have all seen on TV.

Bicycle thieves - no interest in the lock. Bolt croppers cost less than a good lock and they are far quicker at getting the job done reliably.

Car thieves - break into the house and steal the keys.

Regular folk locked out of homes/cars - call the locksmith or simply break some glass.

If you need to gain entry surreptitiously (and not damage a lock) it can be far easier to use social engineering to temporarily obtain keys, e.g. from an employer, then get them cut in a matter of minutes at some place around the corner.

Alternatively an impression can be made in 'plasticine' or a photo taken. A friendly locksmith can sell you the blank, and, with some time with a needle file, a key made.

Although fun can be had picking locks, 'in the wild' it rarely happens because brute force or a bit of Coke can is usually far more effective.


In fact, key blanks and stampers can be purchased online.


When I was a teenager I often forgot to take my housekeys when I went to school. If nobody was home when I got back, I would take a stick from the garden and open the latch with it through the letterbox. Around the age of 16 my wrist became too big to fit through the letterbox and swing the stick, so I had to start remembering my keys.


cool. i'm surprised a stick would work - but i'm guessing it was quite chunky. :)


You opened your door by putting something through your letterbox? That's awesome. Did you catch the doorknob or the lock turner? Was the door handle flat instead of round, or...? Hard to imagine the logistics.


it was one of those ellipsoid shaped twisty things. and there was no deadbolt on the door. (i.e. there was one bolt, no separate lock to doorknob)

it took a lot of effort, my intent was to hit the far side of the spinny thing and hope that the momentum would be enough to get through the catch and click it - i did this by extending my arm through the letterbox as far as possible then angling the spanner back and twisting my wrist to provide the impacts - feeling through the spanner if i was hitting anything and trying to guess from the response if it was the right thing. i found the right thing quickly by feeling around it and working out that it wobbled and made little clicks in the right ways.

the biggest problem was that the spanner was quite fantastically heavy when wielded this way - although the impact that knocked it open was not especially hard or directed I was quite tired by that point and it was a pleasant surprise when it popped open so i can't honestly say it was the technique that worked more than the determination. my arm was struggling to continue raising the spanner and i was probably 20 minutes at most away from complete exhaustion and giving up... my arm was quite fantastically stiff and painful the next day - both the elbow and the wrist, and lingered a couple more days after that as a mild irritation.

I had no expectation that it would actually work it was just desperation... but it was 2am and nobody inside would answer their phone... I was not in a good enough situation to afford an expensive locksmith and similarly breaking the door in was not an option.


The term for this is "loiding."

http://www.lockwiki.com/index.php/Loiding


Been doing to credit card trick for years on locks when I found myself without the proper keys. Never tried a coke can but I have trashed a couple cards trying to get inside. I usually keep an old gift card in my car or wallet for this purpose.


I once broke into my own home when I forgot my keys using a broomstick and the letter hole in the door. I shoved the broomstick through, and pressed on the knob in such a way that it spun and opened the door.


I once had to break into my own house, I used a paint roller handle. It took me about an hour and a half, and was very painful, but I managed it :)


The MIT Guide to Lockpicking[1] is the classic resource for getting started. It's an exceptionally good tutorial because it teaches you how locks work so you have a solid mental model you can refer to.

[1] http://www.capricorn.org/~akira/home/lockpick/


I came here to say this. My father provided me with a printed copy of this book and a few locks from the garage and I learnt a lot. A very rewarding experience for a young mind.


This is why my deadbolt uses an Abloy Protec2 cylinder (custom ordered from Bay Area Locks: http://www.bayarealocks.com). It's drill resistant, and it's disk-based so it's bump and rake proof.

Abloy also claims it's pick proof. Whether that will remain true in the future I'm not sure, but I do know that at the very least it has yet to be successfully picked. If someone did figure out a way it would likely be extremely difficult to do in practice.

After watching some videos that showed just how easy it is to simply kick a door in, another thing I did was replace my strike plate with a heavier duty one, and replace the worthless 3/4" screws that "hold" most strike plates in with 4" screws that actually go into the 2x4's of the house frame.


> After watching some videos that showed just how easy it is to simply kick a door in, another thing I did was replace my strike plate with a heavier duty one, and replace the worthless 3/4" screws that "hold" most strike plates in with 4" screws that actually go into the 2x4's of the house frame.

This is good advice. I did this on my own door frame after being broken into on the first day where the door had simply been kicked in. I can not kick the door in now - I tried. Although the quality of the door is important too - mine bends really quite far before breaking. :)

If you are really security conscious and you don't have them already - I suggest brushes at the door frame edge and the letterbox to prevent approaches other than picking.


If you have a door that's not very strong and you can't afford to replace it with one that is, they do make metal plates that wrap around the deadbolt and optionally the door handle, which apparently makes it much more difficult to break the door itself.

They look something like this: http://hostedmedia.reimanpub.com/TFH/Step-By-Step/FH11JAU_DO...


What about your windows?


I've considered putting security film on them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lFCbjV7NgQ

But I rent so I hesitate because the film obviously has to be custom cut and I doubt it can be removed in a single piece after being installed anyway. I'm a little less worried about the windows though because only 1/4 of unauthorized entries are through windows, and window entry is (often) louder, more obvious, and takes a little longer to get through vs. quietly picking or bumping a lock or swiftly kicking the door in and entering quickly.


The security film is an interesting solution. It seems like it only protects the glass and not the mechanism for opening the window. I am interested because I have actually had an apartment broken into via first floor window many years ago (do you happen to have a source handy for those break-in statistics?).


Sorry to hear that. The stats are from 2005 but are probably similar to what they are today: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/artsandliving/homeandga...

Yeah, I think it only protects the glass, but I believe there are other things you can do to protect the window from being opened another way.


A good place to start is office furniture locks. They usually aren't very well made, and therefore easy to pick. The nearby office supplies can be used as your tools. You can use the large wire from one side of a binder clip as-is as your torque wrench, and a bent paper clip as your rake pick. First, straighten the clip, then bend the middle into a triangle shape. Bend the ends outward for better control over depth and angle.

Insert the binder clip wire, apply some torque, and scrub the pointy end of the triangle on your former paper clip against the pins. The lock will turn in seconds. You may need to adjust the shape of the triangle somewhat to achieve best results.

Popping open your first lock with entirely improvised materials is a powerful reminder that cheap locks are little deterrent to anyone but the most casual and unmotivated intruders, just like privacy locks in bathrooms.


Also Sentry brand safe locks are awful(ly easy to pick), as well as handgun locks, sadly.


My friends and I got free games of pool in our dorm's common room because of the crappiness of cheap locks. I was able to get the lock for the panel that covered the ball return to open with the can opener end of my Swiss Army knife.


actually i find that 'mechanically' opening these kinds of things is usually easier - I remember getting into one of those lockable little cashboxes (that every office seems to have) when I lost a key for it by prying the lid open and bending the case just enough to get one of my fingers far enough in to unhook the catch from the inside with it - pointless little boxes really.


They're not designed to be thief-proof. For that you need a bank vault or safe.

Those little boxes are designed to prevent me from swiping your $50 bill in your drawer when your back is turned or you step out of the room for 30 seconds.


I have been locksporting by myself for some time, and I make my own picks from street sweeper blades.

If you're at all interested in picking, do yourself a favor and get this practice lock for ~$40 it is amazing:

http://learnlockpicking.com/

Also, I highly recommend getting on the TOOOL email list for your area.

in the SF bay it is tooosf@googlegroups.com - great group and good list, although I mostly lurk.

Here are some of my picks.... ignore the lame embellishments; I am not very artistic :)

http://imgur.com/a/ug2wI#0


I love your pinning tray! Absolutely gorgeous. Nice work rolling your own, few things in this world are as satisfying as opening a lock with tools you made yourself.


I was really into this back in high school but never got proficient in it. The concept is simple to understand but actually executing it takes a LOT of practice. Raking can open a lot of older locks pretty quickly, but that doesn't mean you're skilled.

Also, just owning the tools is illegal in some states.


> Raking can open a lot of older locks pretty quickly, but that doesn't mean you're skilled.

I disagree. Raking has opened a lot (most I've tried) of locks in my experience. So, I'd say I'm pretty skilled at picking locks.


I've managed to open a lot of unlocked doors (most I've tried) but wouldn't consider myself "skilled" at it, since it's a pretty easy task. I think the definition of "skill" implies something that isn't easy, thus being able to do something isn't automatically proof of skill.


>>I've managed to open a lot of unlocked doors

Me too! My success rate is over 90% for unlocked doors. Locked ones are harder.

;)


Do you refer to yourself as skilled at opening unlocked doors? :)



Was Michael Jordon considered good because he beat a lot of high school kids?


If his goal was to beat high school kids and he did just that, then yes. If your goal is to pick locks and you successfully pick the locks you want to open, then you're good at picking locks.

Can you be a good programmer without being the best programmer or even a world class programmer?


When did skill become a function of subjective goals?


When you factor in things such as "I'm a skilled programmer, but I don't know Ada." Are you still a skilled programmer? Sure, you're quite good at Ruby and Javascript. But you don't know Ada. Why not? Because your goal was never to learn every programming language.

If you want to pick every lock available to you and you can do so quickly and successfully, you're a skilled lock picker. Buying harder locks just to show you can pick them is an academic feat, not necessarily a real-world skill. Skill is just aptitude in doing something successfully.


> When you factor in things such as "I'm a skilled programmer, but I don't know Ada." Are you still a skilled programmer?

"A programmer" is not necessarily "A person who knows Ada".

You're trying very hard to play semantics and it's not working for you. You don't get to call yourself a skilled swordsman because you sliced up some virtual goblins, simply because the only things you felt like slicing up were virtual goblins. That's not what skill is.

Neither does skill require some asinine qualification of "real-worldness". We can generally agree that many skills are non-transferable or narrowly applicable, such as skill in playing Starcraft or picking "academic" locks. But you're not a skilled carpenter or metalworker if you go out and buy furniture from IKEA. A person who walks casually across the stage doesn't qualify as a skilled dancer unless he actually does some dancing.

"Buying harder locks just to show you can pick them" is akin to "choosing a more difficult project to code up" or "requiring that your algorithm be more performant than it was previously".

Saying that raking locks is skill at lockpicking is like saying you're good at breaking into computers because you have a sledgehammer and a knowledge of where the data center is. Or brute-forcing a password. Yes, it works. That's great. "Doing something successfully" isn't skill.


And you're trying really hard to make things more complicated than they are. A skill is not a complicated thing. Allow me to put the words in your mouth that you are struggling to say: "not a true Scotsman".


If it's not complicated, stop getting it wrong.


I love that for some reason I can't downvote you for being a jackass.


You can't downvote direct replies.


Am I a great programmer if I can write a really good "Hello World" in C?


No, but you may be a great "Hello world in C" writer. People can be insanely fast at solving Rubik's 3x3x3, but that doesn't imply they are good at puzzles in general or even at a 4x4x4.

[by the way, "Hello World" in C is a surprising amount of work. For example, version 2.9 is over 270 lines, and saw over 40 revisions for the main file (http://git.savannah.gnu.org/cgit/hello.git/log/src/hello.c)]


Also, just owning the tools is illegal in some states.

Which is just completely silly. Who is going to pick the lock on somebody's house to break in? The idea of the highly-skilled locksmith cat-burglar is complete fiction.


> Who is going to pick the lock on somebody's house to break in?

Wait, why wouldn't this be better than smashing a window to get in?


Because it takes forever. Front door locks are admittedly not so strong, but it could still take a good pick-lock several minutes, while a window could be broken through in seconds. As for being stealthier… Windows can be cut stealthily, and crouching by a door for five minutes looks rather suspicious by itself.


Actually when my friend was burgled, they stuck a Hi-Lift jack[1] on the frame horizontally and cranked it until the frame came off. The police reckoned the door was open in under 20 seconds and their place was emptied of valuable stuff in under 4 minutes. They got spooked and left the jack on the street but they managed to nick everything.

[1] http://www.hi-lift.com/hi-lift-jacks/index.html


A lot of doors are hidden from view by trees or fences. And then you have side and back doors. And the advantage to not make any noise or carrying around expensive tools (simple lock pick tools can be very cheap), make it not completely unreasonable.

Still, banning tools is not the greatest idea.


I decided to try it out since I have fidgety hands and I figured I could practice while I read articles and such.

I was disappointed at how easy it ended up being. Every lock I purchased I could pick within a few seconds with a rake, or maybe 60 seconds with a hook, so I just gave it up.

I splurged once and got one of the top brands meant for homes. It took more concentration and you couldn't just rake it, but I still got to where I could open it in under a minute.

I'm talking about maybe 20 hours total spent on developing this skill. A complete novice, only understanding how to use the tools, can open any wally world bought padlock with a rake in seconds.


>>> Also, just owning the tools is illegal in some states.

Yes, there is a provision in state laws against possession of "thieves tools."


One thing that I did when I was learning it, was to prepare a set of training locks.

I bought two locks, diassembled then and reassembled leaving aside a number of pins out.

So I had a lock with only one pin, one with two, one with 4 and one with all the 5 pins.

It helped a lot because you learn to feel when the pin stucks on the open position and also to learn about how much pressure you need to put on the tensor. Too much and it will prevent the pins to go down. Too little and the pins will not stuck on the outer frame.

Ahh, and ofcourse, see the lock diassembled over my desk, and reassemble it gave a lot more insight on how it works than to just watch some animations.


Helpful animations on how locks work: http://toool.us/deviant/

Good presentation on types of locks and approaches to picking: http://www.blackhat.com/presentations/bh-europe-08/Deviant_O...

And a guy who knows a ton about picking: http://deviating.net/lockpicking/slides.html


Can anyone explain how the pins getting "set" works? I understand there is torque applied to the entire cylinder, but once you push a pin up, why does it stay there, is it just the torque? How can you push many pins up when the torque required for each pin to become set is presumably variable?


It catches on the shelf of the pin chamber. Every time you set a pin, the plug actually rotates ever so slightly, misaligning the upper and lower pin chambers of whatever pin you were working on. The driver pin can't return to the lower chamber, and now you are putting pressure on another pin. Find that one, lift up, plug rotates, it sits on the shelf, next pin binds, and so on and so forth.


So does this mean that you have to set pins sequentially? It seems like if the plug rotates slightly, it does it for the entire length of the lock, so doesn't this affect whether or not other pins are able to be set?


The reason we can pick locks is that there are many minute differences between the various internal objects. Pins may not be perfectly round, pin chambers may not be in alignment, etc. Small small differences, but when you apply a very light pressure to the pins, you'll actually bind the "weirdest" one first. You aren't binding every pin, just one at a time, when that one is set, you move on to the next weirdest.

The order the pins set in will be unique to the lock, not a universal sequence. In fact, the order will change depending on the direction you pick, and even two locks pinned exactly the same will likely set pins in a different order.

This is called the "tentative method" and it was pioneered in the late 1700s. This idea of tension & manipulation can be applied to nearly every mechanical locking system (there are a very small number of exceptions).


I see, I guess what I am thinking is that if you are applying pressure to one pin, you must be applying (at least some) pressure to all the other pins since you apply the pressure via torque from turning the cylinder which turns (presumably?) uniformly from front to back. I guess the entire cylinder can jostle slightly within its chamber, so that could affect where and how pressure from torque is applied.


Sorry to say, but what you are thinking is actually just wrong. Drop your mental model and adopt mine.

You apply very light pressure to the wrench, which turns the plug, which collides with the weirdest pin out. There are circumstances in which you may bind multiple pins. If the lock is made to absurdly high standards (and I mean lock manufacturer playing a prank on lockpickers level of high standards) or if you apply your tension too heavily.

Watch this video to see what I mean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNKvPS1ac6E&list=SP66CD42F86F...

The first several pins in the lock, as I am searching for the binding pin, are under no pressure whatsoever and can move freely between the upper and lower pin chambers.

Also - noticed you are at Quora, I actually write about lockpicking in film and television over there from time to time: http://tvpicking.quora.com


Thanks, to be clear, I wasn't assuming I was right, but was making assumptions, thanks a lot for replying to my comments, you've been very helpful :)


No problem :) They are really beautiful, complex systems, and as amazing as it is to understand and then manipulate them, I passionately believe that the real genius is holding them all together in your head before they've ever existed in the first place.

Lock engineers have incredibly sharp minds.


The video you shared gave me a much better idea of what's happening I'm sure it's still not close to what really is going on, but thanks for that.

Unrelated, are there any locks which use full length pins that are hollow and encapsulate the spring? It seems like a big source of the misalignment that allows setting is from the pin itself being able to move off its axis where it attaches to the spring.


Great question! Yes, there are a few locks that have hollow pins that the springs rest in. Typically they do that for space constraints, though, rather than to improve alignment.

There's a great example whos name is escaping me at the moment...its a South American company. Anyway, they have a lock with two rows of pins, one normally aligned and the other coming in from the side. However, there isn't as much room horizontally (you'll notice most plugs are located toward the bottom of the housing, yet centered horizontally) so they use the encapsulating pins to make up for the lost space.

That's one of the most interesting challenges in lock engineering, actually. There are a handful of standard formats for locks around the world, and whatever you build needs to fit within those agreed-upon (and very compact) formats, or you won't enjoy wide adoption of your concept.


No. When you apply pressure to one pin, you're not applying pressure (well, on a macroscopic level to where it would in any way bind it) to any of the others.

The pins aren't in a perfect straight line, nor are the holes perfectly uniform, due to the machine tolerances. We're talking on the order of microns here, but that's enough.

Turning the slug will thus cause one pin to bind against the cylinder first, and as soon as it clear, the slug turns ever so slightly, keeping the top pin from being able to fall back down (while the lower one can drop back down).


Thanks, this is starting to make a lot of sense now, much appreciated!


It stay stuck on the outer frame because in the process to drill the holes on the lock frame, the alignment of them is never 100% accurate.

The torque is not variable, the order that you press the pins is.


Ah OK, still a bit mysterious, but I think I get what you're saying.


Finland is nearly completely fitted with Abloy rotating disk locks for anything worth locking down, and this was a nerdly disappointment when I was a teenager and got interested in how to pick locks. There weren't meaningful, pickable locks to play with.

The older Abloy locks from 60's/70's can apparently be picked if you're really skillful but it takes a lot of time and effort, and this was never common knowledge.

I read about hackers who were picking locks in the USA, or just outside of Scandinavia, and how pin tumbler locks work, and realized that those would indeed be plausibly pickable but I never had access to them in practice. I think probably could've found some if I really, really wanted to but nobody was using them for anything serious so learning to pick something considered as toy locks wasn't very motivating.


I'm trying to prototype something called The Hacker Pen and wanted to get some community feedback. It's basically a nice heavy pen, with lock picks on the inside. It will also include a USB key with a digital penetration testing suite on it.

What are your thoughts?


Nice idea. Depending on where you sell this from you may want to check the laws about providing such a tool and if you need to verify anything about the customer before allowing a sale. For example in some parts of the USA one has to show proof of either being a licensed locksmith or a member of some law enforcemnt group.


Here's a good starting reference on the legality of owning lockpicks from state to state:

http://toool.us/laws.html

It doesn't cover sale / purchase, just ownership by state.


Wow, two different colors of green. That person must hate the color blind with a passion.


Sweet! Good find. :)


It's fun and relaxing but most locks are too easy to pick. For me it's kind of similar to knitting as a relaxing exercise :D

I still remember a fun talk I heard about the safety of gun safes (or lack thereof). They cracked it and told the manufacturers how easy it was and got a reply along the lines of "well maybe it's easy for a specialist like you with good equipment but it's safe enough for normal folks". Next slide contained a video of a 6 year old kid (highly trained security specialist) cracking the thing with a straw (specialized security equipment).


Growing up as the middle of 7 children - 5 of them girls - I taught myself how to open padlocks with their bobby pins. It started for the usual mischief, opening their secret young girl things, and then moved onto more rewarding achievements. My technique was to break the pin into two, using the wavy pin as the tension pick, and the straight pin to rotate the barrel. This hasn't failed me on any padlock I've come across, and with practice will take only a few seconds.


As a field engineer, I often use the universal key (screwdriver) to open doors - sometimes you don't even need to pick the lock - just move the hasp out of the way.


I met a guy who used to check fire extinguishers for a living. Frequently in places that weren't staffed. Rather than wait, he said he'd sometimes just pick the lock (with prior permission), check the extinguisher and go on his way.


How I and the ocasional lock smith uses lock pick "practicaly":

1. get any torque wrench (L-shapped metal that goes in the keyhole)

2. get any triangular pick (any thin metal that goes in the hole, saw a triangular tip)

3. insert the pick as far as it goes, apply some tension to the torque wrench, pull the pick out it pressing against the lock pins.

4. repeat #3 until lock is open. you will usually ram the lock like there is no tomorrow, so some graphite or other kind of lubricant may help.


Trained as a locksmith out of college, dad and sibling still trade mainly on "warrant runs" for the large energy providers when they need to get access to house to cut people off.

It's really cool seeing people take an interest in picking, but just wanted to point out that professional & hobbyist picking is completely different. A professional’s first priority normally is to get into the property, damage generally not being a huge issue so the approach changes dramatically.

First you try all the doors, as you would be surprised by how many people just simply don't lock their doors whilst making a judgment what will be the easiest entrance. Then you target the door with the worst lock, normally a UPVC door with a euro cylinder and use an electric pick gun to give it a quick blast. This gets you in within 5 minutes 90% of the time. [1] If the pick gun doesn't work you snap the cylinder in the door and replace the lock for a total cost of about £5 [2]

The hardest part of the whole job is when you have to identify a mortice lock in order to bypass it and knowing if it's worth an attempt at a pick. (Simple 3 lever locks are worth a pick first before a drill) Once the lock has been identified though it's easy to drill, you get your template out [3], mark up the holes and drill out the stump

There are also other methods and the general gist of the story is you use the method which takes the least amount of time with doesn't leave an unreasonable amount of cost!

Some other methods/products to look at which are interesting and commonly used:

- Mica, a specifically made plastic for slipping rim latches, most commonly referred to as "yale locks": http://uklockpickers.co.uk/mica-shim.html

- Letterbox tool, very basic (its just posh string on a stick) but also very effective at knocking off deadbolts or opening a latch that won't slip: http://www.walkerlocksmiths.co.uk/bypass-tools/letterbox-too...

- Try out keys for mortice locks with a low number of levers: http://www.walkerlocksmiths.co.uk/mortice-picks-tools/try-ou...

- Plug spinner for when you pick the lock the wrong way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUmCUj44BPg

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=mTt...

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqhhXyROxQM

[3] http://www.eltonlockservices.co.uk/drill%20template%20new%20...


I feel like Lock Picking is an obligatory subject for hackers. Defcon hosts these events, hackernews features these posts. I don't find it interesting to break into something mechanical


I may or may not have learned at a boring job with filing cabinets and other locks...I promise if you hire me, I won't do that, though.

Anyway, this is a crazy hard skill to master, simply because of the feel required to actually push each pin in place, and the fact that you're doing it blindly and often without so much as audible feedback from the lock.

You definitely need to practice to get good, and there are all types of funky locks outside of your home country


It looks like most lock picking videos focus on the easy locks. How hard would it be to pick a lock with side pins or however they are called? For example the Kaba locks use them and most houses e.g. in Switzerland do have one of them.

http://www.kaba.sg/media/470570/v4/resized650x-1/mechanical-...


The fatal flaw with physical keys is that the image IS the key. As 3d fabrication and photography become ubiquitous, it becomes more and more absurd to use these locks to protect anything. In essence, anyone who has seen a key gains the permanent irrevocable ability to bypass that lock, until the lock is replaced.


So - don't let anyone see your key.


A couple years ago I bought this book, read it in a few days, and was on my way. Highly recommended. Super fun.

http://www.amazon.com/Practical-Lock-Picking-Physical-Penetr...


I don't know if this affects everyone as it does me, but light text on black background is really, really tiring for me to read. It leaves white and black horizontal stripes in my vision for many minutes. On sites like this I have to open my developer view and fix the CSS.



Wont always work thoughwith every lock. What does work is a drill. All cylinders must be made of soft non-corrosive metal like brass.Just send a big enuf drill down the cylinder and twist it with a screwdriver, quiker;)


With the inexpensiveness of electronics today, why haven't we moved from a mechanical "password" (the height of the pins) to a simple electronic code programmed into the key?


My key to the office building has a chip inside. So i guess they are slowy coming.


The MIT guide to lock picking is rather good as well: www.lysator.liu.se/mit-guide/MITLockGuide.pdf‎


Does anyone have a lock recommendation for making an apartment/house more secure?




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