Actually, since I missed posting a tool last week, I’m going to mention several tools in this week’s post. The difference is that these tools are all related. Of course, all these things are related to lock picking, sometimes referred to as “lock sport” or “steel-bolt hacking”.
We’ve all seen this on TV or in the movies. The hero, or anti-hero, needs to get into a room for some reason, only to be confronted with a locked door. A locked door that would stop the average person, but not the hero of the story we’re watching. Instead of being stymied by this apparently insurmountable obstacle, our hero, or heroine, simply pull out a set of lock picks with which they proceed to fiddle about with, often by the light of a flashlight held in their mouth, until the formerly locked door is suddenly, almost magically, opened. Who among us has not wanted to be able to do the same thing? How many times have we found ourselves on the wrong side of a locked door, wishing we had a set of lock picks with which to quietly gain entry to whatever is on the other side of said door? And, perhaps more commonly, how often have we simply forgotten our keys, to home of office, and wanted to avoid the inconvenience of going to fetch them or find someone who could let us in?
Well, I have long wanted to be able to do all those things at one time or another.
In August of 2012, while attending DEF*CON 20, I finally got my initiation into the world of lock picking. Or, as I more often prefer to euphemistically refer to it; keyless entry. I spent several good hours at the Lockpick Village put on by TOOOL, The Open Organization of Lockpickers. It was there that several very patient people taught me the basics of lock picking. There were other opportunities to learn things like bumping and impressioning, as well as learning how to bypass locks other than the standard door lock or keyed padlock. I haven’t had the time, or opportunity to explore those non-picking tools too much yet, but several of the tools in the photo above came from TOOOL. TOOOL sells a fine starter’s set of lock picks and tension bars, which I bought at DEF*CON and can be purchased via their Equipment page. You can see the two picks I use most often, and a tension tool on the right, resting on top of the TOOOL leather case.
I like these picks and tension tools because they’re light, but sturdy and relatively economical. They also have nice sized grips which feel comfortable in my meat-hook-like hands. It’s important that I feel like the tools I’m using to open a lock aren’t constantly in danger of breaking off in said lock, further complicating my opening of it. These tools do that quite well, and look good while doing it.
The other thing in that photo which came from TOOOL is the progressive training locks, as they call them, though they’re really just specially prepared tumblers. They’re in the large-ish grey thing near the middle of the photo, which I refer to as a lock picking vice, perhaps incorrectly, and which I’ll describe in a minute. Actually, to be specific, the three training locks in the vice are the first three of a complete set of ten. They start with a single pin in the tumbler and go all the way up to six pins in a tumbler, for the first, “normal” training locks. The last four are a special spool-shaped pin, which is harder to pick, and go from one pin up to four pins in the “security” training lock set. To get the entire set of ten ran me $120 before tax and shipping, but they are totally worth it. In theory, I could have gotten ten of my own locks, stripped them down to just the bare necessities and pinned them out myself, but I can guarantee that they would not look as neat as these. And, that’s assuming that I could find a source for the spool-shaped security pins for those last four.
I just got these recently, and I think it was just in time because my skills were getting pretty rusty! I hadn’t touched my picks in a couple of months and found myself completely unable to pick a simple padlock that used to take me a couple of quick seconds to open. It was mortifying! I should note, these training locks are a little looser and easier to pick than a real-world lock, but that’s intentional. The idea being, of course, that you need to get the feel for it before graduating to a real lock. Incidentally, a standard padlock usually has four pins. The average American door lock, like we normally use on houses, has five pins. And, I’m told, that normal European door locks, like would be used on most residential doors, use six pins. So, that’s why the training locks are pinned the way they are. They make a logical progression of difficultly with real-world application.
When I found the Tri-Pik, as I call it, I was actually looking for something else, but I was thrilled. The “Deluxe Adjustable Tri-Pik LOCK PICKING Holding Fixture“, as it is called on the website where I found it, is pretty fantastic. In fact, I’d just about call it essential to my reintroduction to lock picking.
The basic idea is this; a real lock would be surface mounted in, say, a door, and would leave me both hands free to manipulate the tension tool and pick, and this tool lets you simulate that. Without this, I would be holding the training lock in one hand, keeping tension on the cylinder via the tension bar with that same hand, while manipulating the pins with the pick in the other hand. A fine way to learn, but not very realistic. The Tri-Pik fixes that. It is so named because it’s designed to let me mount up to three training locks in it at once, locking them in place via a hand-tightened set screw from below. It’s quite a good system. Simple, but effective, and reasonably priced at $35 plus tax and shipping. I cannot recommend the Tri-Pik enough to someone learning how to pick locks. It’s really, really fantastic.
Oddly enough, I found the Tri-Pik while looking for the fourth tool I’m mentioning today; the Southard Jackknife Lockpick Set. I had seen this at DEF*CON, but I was a little hesitant to buy one, since I was flying back to Houston afterwards and didn’t want to have it mistaken for a knife and taken from me by a TSA agent. But, now that I’m back, and it turns out the NSA has been watching all of us all along anyway, I decided to go ahead and get one of these little beauties. Eventually, I’ll add this into my “every day carry”, so I’ll always be able to open doors, but first, I need to practice with it a bit. Obviously, the idea is to fold it all up like a pocket knife and carry it with you, but the genius, in my opinion, is how they handle the tension tool. It fits over the top of the folded-away picks, with one end sliding into a tight, narrow opening in the center of the main body of the tool set, using tension to keep it all together. It works quite well and provides the amateur locksmith with a complete set of tools including; the tension tool, a long hook pick, a diamond-shaped pick, a half circle pick, a “snake rake”, an alternative rake and a diamond-shaped broken key extractor. Add to that a really nice mechanism hold the picks in both a closed and “ready to use” position and you’ve got a great, portable toolset here for just under $40, before tax and shipping. A fantastic deal in my opinion.
The last “tool” is really a book. Namely, the very good lockpicking primer, The Visual Guide to Lockpicking. I have to admit, even though I had this book long before I learned how to pick locks at DEF*CON, I found it just a little too intimidating and confusing to use before I had some hands-on experience. Now that I do, however, I can see just how good a resource this is. It covers the majority of mechanical locks that a self-taught locksmith might encounter and have to deal with, including tubular locks and locks with pins on both the top and bottom of the cylinder, which are both challenges I have yet to master. While no substitute for a good teacher, this book really is a great place to start if you can’t get direct instruction and has fantastic illustrations explaining the entire process. It’s well worth the $15 or so that Amazon.com is asking. (And, yes, if you buy a copy from that link, I get a credit. Thanks!)
Incidentally, if you can’t quite figure the connection between “network geek” and “lockpicking”, the answer is far simpler than you might imagine. In the early days of computers, the best of the best were pretty much all at M.I.T.,where it is widely believed the term “hacker” originated, and, to get access to computer labs, and a place to crash while programs ran on the big, old iron that were computer systems back then, the hard-core computer geeks all became locksmiths so that they could get the tools to pick locks and never be on the wrong side of a locked door. Or, at least, that’s what I read in Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Stephen Levy back when I was just getting started in IT.
So, yeah, that’s a mess of tools for Tuesday this week and a peek into the crazy way my mind works. I hope it makes up for missing last week!