College of Lockpicking

Al Billings

Originally published on Open Buddha

Last night, Ace Monster Toys had a two hour or so workshop by guests, Eric and Jamie, from the College of Lockpicking. This was a brief history of locks and lockpicking followed by a hands on practicum where we all got to work on learning to pick locks hands on with some help and supervision.

AMT has had a few locks and a member or three who knows something about lockpicking but we haven’t gone out of our way to make lockpicking a core part of what we hack on. For those that don’t know, within the hacking community there is a long tradition of lockpicking as a hacking thing, learning to work hands on with the intricacies of getting through locking mechanisms. As I recall, this goes back, in engineering circles, to Richard Oppenheimer hacking locks at Los Alamos for fun, among other places.

A few years ago, Toool, The Open Organization of Lockpickers, was founded and members of Toool have chapters all over and are an omnipresent part of hacking conferences, like DEFCON. There is actual a competition form of lockpicking called “Locksport,” that has a number of competitions. The Fraternal Order of Lock Sport and Locksport International are good places for more information on that.

For the class, people either purchased lockpicks from the organizers or brought their own. We then sat down, after some theoretical discusion of how tumbler and pin locks actually work, to open locks. This involves a bit of a learning curve as you need to learn to manipulate the tools, how much tension to put onto the lock, and how to “feel” the pins in the lock as you poke at them. I was able to open a cheap chinese padlock, a simple 1 pin lock (used for training) and a 3 or 4 pin lock. I wasn’t able to get the Masterlock on the table or any of the 5 pin locks open. (More practice is needed, it seems.) Some people doing this for the first time, or nearly so, were able to reliably get five pin or more locks opened without too much trouble. Future dentists, one supposes…

We also got to play with police style handcuffs and zipties. It turns out that getting out of handcuffs isn’t too hard if you have a little metal shim and they aren’t already cutting off the blood to your wrists (since you need to tighten them a little to shim them). Zipties can be cut through with a little vigorous footwork using good shoelaces or paracord (and time alone away from the cops). Given the last week of Occupy Oakland, this might be useful.

All in all, it was a good event and I’m glad that Eric and Jamie were going to make it out to teach it. This has encouraged those of us at AMT to potentially add a few more locks to our sets in the space and I’ve proposed some kind of reoccurring night for people to come hang out and be frustrated by locks together.