Irvine Underground – Lockpicking Interview and Howto

The folks at Lockpicking 101 were kind enough to let me sneak in a quick interview today.

I've run into so many camera-freaked and fed-shy folks at DefCon, I was shocked that they not only granted me a podcast worthy interview, but helped me pick my first deadbolt. Very cool.

Read on to hear more about lock pickers, lock smiths, the trend of security-through-obscurity policy in the physical security industry, and a quick howto by yours-truly on picking a deadbolt!

Talking with Irvine Underground

Inline Audio Temporarily Disabled.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the attachment at the end of the post.

Howto: Pick a Deadbolt

Pick a Deadbolt

Here's a quick and dirty deadbolt lock picking howto that'll give you and your friends some cheap entertainment on a slow weekend afternoon.

The funny thing is how easy it is to do. I've tried it before on several occasions and was never able to successfully pull it off, but all it took was someone in-the-know to tell me I was doing it right and to be patient and it magically worked.


Materials for lockpiking

You'll need the following (pardon my lack of proper lingo):

  • Torque tool – flat skinny piece of metal with a 90 degree bend at the end. used for applying rotational pressure on the lock.
  • Pick/rake tool – another flat skinny piece of metal with a smal triangular bump at the end. used for pushing up the pins within the lock.
  • Lock – of the deadbolt variety. used for entertainment on a slow afternoon.

The torque and the rake tool need to be made from a strong, flat, skinny piece of metal. You can either buy this stuff, or you can make your own from a street sweeper bristle (find these in the gutter or in a parking lot).

The torque tool is pretty easy to make. The end just needs to fit snugly into the bottom part of the keyhole so you can twist the lock. You actually don't need to supply much pressure, so you might be able to just bend the tip of a nail 90 degrees and hammer the tip flat.

The rake/pick tool is a little more difficult. It needs to be skinny enough to fit in the top portion of the keyhole where the pins are. It has an additional requirement that it has to be slender enough in the other dimension to move up and down to depress the pins. If you can't get it in the lock without depressing pins, it's probably still too thick and will need to be filed.

There are all sorts of different styles of pick tools. I used one with a small triangular bump at the end. This sticks up slightly and has a leading and trailing angle of about 45 degrees. You'll just want to make sure you can stick the tool all the way in the lock, and drag it smoothly across the pins while pulling out. A careful bit of filing work and you should be good to go.

Step 1: Apply Torque Pressure

Apply Torque Pressure

Slap your torque tool in the lock and twist it as if you were unlocking the lock with a normal key. You'll just need to apply slight pressure constantly to keep any “set” pins from falling back down. Once all the pins are set, it will just release and you can continue twisting to unlock the lock.

Step 2a: Use Pick/Rake Tool To Set Pins

Use Pick/Rake Tool To Set Pins

Take a peek at a key. All those little bumps are there to hold the pins (of various length) within the lock at the proper height for their tops to lie in a common plane, which allows the lock to turn (go to lockpicking 101 for a more detailed description of how a lock works).

What you need to do is push up each pin individually with your pick so that it is at the right height. How do you know the right height? Luckily, this is an easy job, because due to friction and imperfect machining tolerances, some pins will bind a little more than others as you push them while the lock is under a slight torque pressure. When it hits the height of the sheer plane, the lock will turn a miniscule amount and the pin will get stuck, or set, at the correct height. As you repeat this process, one pin after another will be set until, finally, none remain, and the lock will turn.

Step 2b: Easy Way To Use a Pick

Easy Way To Use a Pick

Simply push the pick all the way into the lock, then push up with enough pressure to depress the pins, and pull the pick out, dragging it over all the pins and depressing them one at a time.

Step 3: Repeat

Repeat for Lockpicking

Just keep raking the pick over the pins while applying a little pressure with the torque tool and eventually all the pins will be set and the lock will open.

Don't Be Discouraged

It's so crazy how easy it is, but it's also really easy to get discouraged when nothing appears to be happening. I was literally in the middle of asking someone, “do people usually give up too early,” when my lock finally opened.

As you get better, I guess you start to get a feel for how you are interacting with the pins, which ones are set, and which ones aren't and it goes a lot faster.. but just blindly raking at the pins seems to work dandy, albeit taking a bit longer.

That's really about all there is to it. Have fun, and don't do anything I wouldn't do.

Written by Jason Striegel

C/C++, Java, Python, Linux developer for 18 years, A-Tech enthusiast love to share some useful tech hacks.