Lock picking

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A traditional set of lock picks. The two tools on the left are torsion wrenches (commonly referred to as tension wrenches).
CYL2, device used by Czech StB for lock picking and creating duplicates of common pin tumbler locks

Lock picking is the art of unlocking a lock by analyzing and manipulating the components of the lock device, without the original key. Although lock picking can be associated with criminal intent, it is an essential skill for a locksmith. Lock picking is the ideal way of opening a lock without the correct key, while not damaging the lock, allowing it to be rekeyed for later use, which is especially important with antique locks that would be impossible to replace if destructive entry methods are used.

Usually it is possible to bypass a lock without picking it. Most common locks can be quickly and easily opened using a drill, bolt cutters, padlock shim, a bump key or a hydraulic jack. The hasp, door, or fixture they are attached to can be cut, broken, or otherwise removed. Therefore a lock that offers high resistance to picking does not necessarily make unauthorized access more difficult, but will make surreptitious unauthorized access more difficult. Locks are often used in combination with alarms to provide layered security.

Some people enjoy picking locks recreationally, because they find it brings high satisfaction and is an enjoyable way to pass the time; it also has hack value.


[edit] Key impressioning

Contrary to what one might think upon hearing the term, key impressioning does not have anything to do with molds. Instead, one starts with a key blank.

[edit] Method

One uses the file to polish the top of the key; that is, the part of the key that the pin come into contact with. (Before starting the impressioning, it is good to count the number of pins in the lock with a hook pick, thus helping choose the correct sized blank.) The key is put into the keyhole and gently turned, binding the key, which is then jiggled up and down. This serves to leave perpendicular scrapes of the pins on the key.

After filing a few thousandths of brass off of the key with the pippen or rat tail file, the process is repeated. Care must be taken to only file if a little dimple is seen in the key grooves. When enough material has been filed from the blank, the blank will approximate the cut of the key and the lock should open when the key is turned.

This method makes high-security drivers (if they are grooved or mushroomed) irrelevant. This method works well on car doors and other wafer locks.

[edit] Tool sets

The tools for lock picking are usually different for each type of lock and can sometimes be improvised from common items.

Lock pick kits can be purchased openly via the Internet. Many different selections are present. Nine-piece sets and a 32-piece set equipped with a Pick Gun for example differ in value and price greatly. However, many lock pickers state that for most locking devices, a basic set of five picks is enough; therefore it is unnecessary to carry around a wide variety of professional lock picks.

[edit] Tension wrench

A traditional pickset. From left to right: Torsion wrench, "twist-flex" torsion wrench, offset diamond pick, ball pick, half-diamond pick, short hook, medium hook, saw (or "L") rake, snake (or "C") rake.

Often called a torque wrench or a torsion wrench. A tension wrench is a tool used in picking locks. Typically shaped like a letter "L" (although the vertical part of the letter is elongated in comparison to the horizontal part), it is used to apply torsion to the inner cylinder of a lock, in order to hold any picked pins in place, while the other pins are shifted. The tension wrench is then used to turn the inner cylinder and open the lock.

Despite its popular name, the tool provides torsion, not tension. A tension wrench would be, by definition, a tool that stretches something. A torsion wrench would be a tool that twists.

Some tension wrenches (called "Feather Touch" wrenches, among other names) are coiled into a spring at the bend in the "L", which helps the user apply constant torque. Some users, however, maintain that such wrenches reduce torsion control and the feedback available to the user.

[edit] Half-diamond pick

Perhaps the most basic and common pick, this versatile pick is included in all kits and is mainly used for picking individual pins, but can also be used for raking and for wafer and disk locks.

[edit] Hook pick

It is similar to the half diamond pick, but has a hook shaped tip rather than a half diamond shape. The hook pick is sometimes referred to as a 'feeler' and is generally used to lift the pins individually, rather than 'rake' them simultaneously.

[edit] Rake picks

These picks , such as the common snake rake, are designed to be 'rake' pins by rapidly sliding the pick past all the pins, repeatedly, in order to bounce the pins until they reach the shear line. This method requires much less skill than picking pins individually, and generally works well only on cheaper locks.

[edit] Warded pick

A warded pick, also known as a skeleton key, is a device for opening warded locks. It is generally made to conform to a generalized key shape relatively simpler than the actual key used to open the lock; this simpler shape allows for internal manipulations.

[edit] Pick guns

A traditional electric pick gun that runs off of C-cell batteries.
A traditional manual pick gun that is used by pulling the trigger.

Often seen in movies and in the tool box of locksmiths, manual and electronic pick guns are a popular method used today for quick and easy ways of opening up doors. The higher-end electric pick guns are usually made of aircraft aluminum and hard steel. The pick is operated by simply pressing a button that vibrates while the normal tension wrench is being used. A manual pick gun is used in a similar way but usually has a "trigger" that creates an upward movement that must be repeated rapidly to open the lock.

[edit] Legal status

[edit] United States

In the United States, laws concerning possession of lock picks vary from state to state. Generally, possession and use of lock picks is considered equivalent to the possession of a crowbar or any other tool that may or may not be used in a burglary. Illegal possession of lock picks is generally prosecuted as a felony under the category of possession of burglary tools or similar statutes. In many states, simple possession is completely legal as their statutes require proof of intent.

In California, locksmiths must be licensed by the state.[1] However possession by laymen may be legal there and in most states, as illegal possession must be coupled with felonious or malicious intent.[2]This is also the case in Utah [3], Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Washington, DC,[4] and New York.

[edit] European Union

Most countries of the European Union don't regulate the possession of lock picks. In fact some even encourage people to learn this skill since it can be useful in emergency situations.[citation needed] All responsibility concerning criminal or legal acts using the picks is taken by the user of the lock picks, when the owner of the lock picks may be involved in the jurisdiction or legal process as an accomplice or witness.

[edit] Netherlands

In the Netherlands, owning lock picks is legal, but using them on someone else's locks without permission is not. There is a lock picking championship, the Dutch Open (organised by TOOOL), which was reported on in the newspapers.[5]

[edit] Poland

In Poland according to the delinquency Codeep Act article 129 § 1:
1) possessing, producing or obtaining a lockpick by a person whose profession and occupation doesn't require it;
2) delivering a lockpick to a person whose profession and occupation doesn't require it;
3) […]
is punishable with arrest, freedom limitation or fine. § 3 says that a lockpick is forfeited even if it wasn't a property of the principal.

[edit] United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a person who carries a lock pick set (even a home made one) can be charged with the offence of "going equipped", unless they have a good reason for carrying them.[6] The penalty for this can be upward of 5 years' imprisonment. The arresting officer must have "reasonable cause".

[edit] New Zealand

In New Zealand lock picking tools are not illegal, but possession with the intent to use them for burglary carries a potential penalty of three years in prison. [7]

[edit] Media

When lockpicking is shown in movies and television shows, the torsion wrench is almost always omitted. Picking a pin and tumbler lock without torsion is impossible unless there is a major defect in the lock.

In some modern dramas (such as FOX's 24) in which realistic depiction of events is favored, the pick-and-wrench technique is fully shown (albeit often executed in a second or two, which doesn't accurately reflect the luck involved with raking an unfamiliar lock).

Although there do exist raking tools in which a single element may be used to open a lock (such as automobile "tryout" keys), these are rarely used in media depictions, and almost as rarely used in real life. The broad width of these picks allows for the necessary application of torque, just as an external source of torque is not required when using a standard key.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Locksmith Companies and Employees". California Department of Consumer Affairs. http://www.dca.ca.gov/bsis/industries_regulated/locksmith.shtml. 
  2. ^ "California Penal Codes, Sections 466–469". California Legislative Information. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=466-469. 
  3. ^ http://le.utah.gov/~code/TITLE76/htm/76_06_020500.htm Utah Criminal Code: Title 76 - Chapter 06 - Section 205
  4. ^ District of Columbia Official Code, DC ST § 22-2501
  5. ^ "Lock pickers hebben slot in paar seconden open", the Leeuwarder Courant, 2002-12-02
    • "Vito Tieke", Even Vragen Aan, the Algemeen Dagblad, 2002-12-02
    • "Duitser kampioen sloten openen", the Sp!ts, probably 2002-12-02
    • "Duitser wordt in Sneek kampioen sloten openen", the Friesch Dagblad, probably 2002-12-02
    • "Duitser eerste kampioen sloten openen in Sneek", the Dagblad van het Noorden, probably 2002-12-02
    • "Sloten openen als nieuwe sport", Dagblad de Limburger, probably 2002-12-02
    Note: the dates of some articles were not available, but considering the fact that newspapers generally report promptly, it can be assumed the given dates are correct. It was also documented on television, in the programs Hart van Nederland and on Omproep Friesland.
  6. ^ "Police-information.co.uk legislation index". http://www.police-information.co.uk/legislation/legislationindexeng.html#G. Retrieved on 2006-08-10. 
  7. ^ "New Zealand Crimes Act (1961), Section 223, subsection 1 - Being disguised or in possession of instrument for burglary". http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1961/0043/latest/DLM330247.html?search=qs_act_burglary#DLM330247. Retrieved on 2008-03-26. 

[edit] External links

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