At BIL 2012, I interviewed Eric Michel of the College of Lockpicking, who showed me that most locks in the United States have an exploitable fault that is vulnerable to lock picking.
You see, locks are relatively simple devices. In the United States, we have what are called “pin-and-tumbler locks”. They come in many different shapes and sizes — key and lock, padlock, mortise cylinder, deadbolts, etc. All locks displayed have the same internal mechanism. You have the body, which is the metal cylinder housing, and the plug — which is the rotating inside piece. Inside the plug are drill holes, and on the front is the keyway. The metal “juts” are simply there to make sure the key fits the lock — contrary to popular belief, the shape of these juts doesn’t actually turn the lock. Here’s where it gets interesting:
If you turn a lock on its side, you will see stacks of pins. Above the “key” pins are “driver” pins, that sit between the plug and the body of the lock. The driver pins prevent the plug from rotating. The springs at the top are what keep the pins pushed into the plug, so that no matter the orientation, it will still operate correctly.
For the manufacturer, it is very expensive to drill precision-machined holes. Also, if any amount of dirt collects in one or more of the holes, they won’t fit the pins and the entire lock will not function. Manufacturers understand this, so they purposely allow for a little bit of “slop” — that is, a margin of error in the size and depth of the holes. Because of this production technique, not all of the pins need to be pushing to the side at all times — in reality, locks only have one or two pins that move — which creates an exploitable position.
Here are the tools you will need.
- Torque tool, which is basically just a bent piece of metal in an L-shape.
- A short hook — again, a small, bent piece of straight metal with a tiny hook or tooth on the end to push up the pins.
To take advantage of the “exploitable condition”, put the torque tool into the bottom of the lock. Place your index finger on torque tool to add pressure. If your finger is turning white, you are pressing too hard. Hold the short hook like a pencil, and place it into lock as low as possible by riding it down on the torque tool. Do not prematurely lift any pins that you dont want to lift, but feel if any pins are springy. If the pin gives, that means you don’t have to worry about it because it isn’t blocking the lock from rotating. In sequence, use your hook to find the pins that are binding, and push it up. Presto.
Feeling terrified at how simple the entire process was, I asked a glaring question: Why are you guys teaching people how to pick locks?!
Eric explained that there is nothing illegal about picking locks, and that in the long run, it is actually a good thing to educate people about exploitable faults in anything so that manufacturers can correct the issues for greater security across the board.
Similar to a hacker that finds holes in a website’s security, the College of Lockpicking is not only spreading awareness, but a message: Locking that door at night may put your mind at ease — but in this day and age, our minds are the keys.