Handcuffs pose a particular key management problem. Officers need to be able to unlock handcuffs locked by another officer, so they’re all designed to be opened by a standard set of keys. This system only works if the bad guys can’t get a copy of the key, and modern handcuff manufacturers go out of their way to make it hard for regular people to get copies of the key.
At the recent HOPE conference, someone made copies of these keys using a 3D printer:
In a workshop Friday at the Hackers On Planet Earth conference in New York, a German hacker and security consultant who goes by the name “Ray” demonstrated a looming problem for handcuff makers hoping to restrict the distribution of the keys that open their cuffs: With plastic copies he cheaply produced with a laser-cutter and a 3D printer, he was able to open handcuffs built by the German firm Bonowi and the English manufacturer Chubb, both of which attempt to control the distribution of their keys to keep them exclusively in the hands of authorized buyers such as law enforcement.
Unlike keys for more common handcuffs, which can be purchased (even in forms specifically designed to be concealable) from practically any survivalist or police surplus store, Bonowi’s and Chubb’s keys can’t be acquired from commercial vendors. Ray says he bought a Chubb key from eBay, where he says they intermittently appear, and obtained the rarer Bonowi key through a source he declined to name. Then he precisely measured them with calipers and created CAD models, which he used to reproduce the keys en masse, both in plexiglass with a friend’s standard laser cutter and in ABS plastic with a Repman 3D printer. Both types of tools can be found in hacker spaces around the U.S. and, in the case of 3D printers, thousands of consumers’ homes.
EDITED TO ADD (7/29): Interesting comment.
EDITED TO ADD (8/13): Comment from the presenter.
Posted on July 25, 2012 at 6:42 AM •
When he went to court for hearings, he could see the system was flawed. He would arrive on the twelfth floor in handcuffs and attached at the waist to a dozen other inmates. A correction officer would lead them into the bull pen, an area where inmates wait for their lawyers. From the bull pen, the inmates would follow their lawyers or court officials either up a set of back stairs into a courtroom or down a set of stairs.
The more Tackmann went to court, the more he noticed that once the inmate at the head of the line would get uncuffed and turn into the bull pen, he would be out of view of the correction officer at the back of the line. He could then avoid the bull pen and dart down the rear stairs.
On the morning of September 30, Tackmann prepared for court in Manhattan. He dressed in a light-gray three-piece suit that he thinks was his stepfather’s. He wore two sets of dress socks. One around his feet, the other around the Rikers Island slippers he was ordered to wear (“to make them look like shoes; they looked like suede shoes”).
As he was bussed to the courthouse, he rehearsed the move in his mind.
When you come up to the twelfth floor, you’re handcuffed with like twelve people on a chain. The C.O. is right there with you.You have to be ready, so if the move is there…
That day, the move was there. “I was in the front of the line. The C.O.—it was some new guy. He un-handcuffed us in the hallway, and I was the first one around the corner.”
Tackmann raced down the stairwell and knocked on a courtroom door. A court officer opened it.
Tackmann had the shtick worked out—the lawyer in distress. “You know,” he said, “I was just with a client, and my mother is real sick in Bellevue. Could you tell me how to get to Bellevue? I gotta get over there fast; she is 80 years old.”
He wanted to sprint. The adrenaline was gushing. He calmly walked to the courtroom entrance as the sweat trickled around his neck. He raced down several flights of stairs and tried the door. It was locked. He walked down another flight. Locked. What is going on? Did they find out I was missing already? One more flight down. The door was open. He jumped in an elevator, got out on the ground floor, and walked into the street. Freedom. But not for long.
Posted on January 18, 2010 at 6:57 AM •
Using a 3D printer. Impressive.
At the end of the day he talked the officers into trying the key on their handcuffs and … it did work! At least the Dutch Police now knows there is a plastic key on the market that will open their handcuffs. A plastic key undetectable by metal detectors….
EDITED TO ADD (10/12): Additional comments from the author.
Posted on September 16, 2009 at 9:00 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.