Entries Tagged "locks"

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Making Handcuff Keys with 3D Printers

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 AMView Comments

Hacking BMW's Remote Keyless Entry System

It turns out to be surprisingly easy:

The owner, who posted the video at 1addicts.com, suspects the thieves broke the glass to access the BMW’s on-board diagnostics port (OBD) in the footwell of the car, then used a special device to obtain the car’s unique key fob digital ID and reprogram a blank key fob to start the car. It took less than 3 minutes to accomplish the feat. (That said, despite their sophistication, the thieves were, comically, unable to thwart the surveillance cameras, though they tried.)


Jalopnik reports that BMW thieves are likely exploiting a gap in the car’s internal ultrasonic sensor system to avoid tripping its alarm when they access the car.

But there’s another security flaw in play. The OBD system doesn’t require a password to access it and program a key fob. According to Jalopnik, this is a requirement in Europe so that non-franchised mechanics and garages can read the car’s digital diagnostic data.

More details here.

Posted on July 13, 2012 at 6:51 AMView Comments

Russian Nuclear Launch Code Backup Procedure

If the safe doesn’t open, use a sledgehammer:

The sledgehammer’s existence first came to light in 1980, when a group of inspecting officers from the General Staff visiting Strategic Missile Forces headquarters asked General Georgy Novikov what he would do if he received a missile launch order but the safe containing the launch codes failed to open.

Novikov said he would “knock off the safe’s lock with the sledgehammer” he kept nearby, the spokesman said.

At the time the inspectors severely criticized the general’s response, but the General Staff’s top official said Novikov would be acting correctly.

EDITED TO ADD (7/14): British nukes used to be protected by bike locks.

Posted on June 27, 2012 at 6:30 AMView Comments

Interview with a Safecracker

The legal kind. It’s interesting:

Q: How realistic are movies that show people breaking into vaults?

A: Not very! In the movies it takes five minutes of razzle-dazzle; in real life it’s usually at least a couple of hours of precision work for an easy, lost combination lockout.


Q: Have you ever met a lock you couldn’t pick?

A: There are several types of locks that are designed to be extremely pick-resistant, as there are combination safe locks that can slow down my efforts at manipulation.

I’ve never met a safe or lock that kept me out for very long. Not saying I can’t be stumped. Unknown mechanical malfunctions inside a safe or vault are the most challenging things I have to contend with and I will probably see one of those tomorrow since you just jinxed me with that question.

Posted on May 29, 2012 at 6:03 AMView Comments

Attacking PLCs Controlling Prison Doors

Embedded system vulnerabilities in prisons:

Some of the same vulnerabilities that the Stuxnet superworm used to sabotage centrifuges at a nuclear plant in Iran exist in the country’s top high-security prisons, according to security consultant and engineer John Strauchs, who plans to discuss the issue and demonstrate an exploit against the systems at the DefCon hacker conference next week in Las Vegas.

Strauchs, who says he engineered or consulted on electronic security systems in more than 100 prisons, courthouses and police stations throughout the U.S. ­ including eight maximum-security prisons ­ says the prisons use programmable logic controllers to control locks on cells and other facility doors and gates. PLCs are the same devices that Stuxnet exploited to attack centrifuges in Iran.

This seems like a minor risk today; Stuxnet was a military-grade effort, and beyond the reach of your typical criminal organization. But that can only change, as people study and learn from the reverse-engineered Stuxnet code and as hacking PLCs becomes more common.

As we move from mechanical, or even electro-mechanical, systems to digital systems, and as we network those digital systems, this sort of vulnerability is going to only become more common.

Posted on August 2, 2011 at 6:23 AMView Comments

Duplicating Physical Keys from Photographs (Sneakey)

In this demonstration, researchers photographed keys from 200 feet away and then made working copies. From the paper:

The access control provided by a physical lock is based on the assumption that the information content of the corresponding key is private — that duplication should require either possession of the key or a priori knowledge of how it was cut. However, the ever-increasing capabilities and prevalence of digital imaging technologies present a fundamental challenge to this privacy assumption. Using modest imaging equipment and standard computer vision algorithms, we demonstrate the effectiveness of physical key teleduplication — extracting a key’s complete and precise bitting code at a distance via optical decoding and then cutting precise duplicates. We describe our prototype system, Sneakey, and evaluate its effectiveness, in both laboratory and real-world settings, using the most popular residential key types in the U.S.

The design of common keys actually makes this process easier. There are only ten possible positions for each pin, any single key uses only half of those positions, and the positions of adjacent pins are deliberately set far apart.

EDITED TO ADD (7/26): I seem to have written about this in 2009. Apologies.

Posted on July 26, 2011 at 1:28 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.