How many of you know about the skeleton key? It’s the kind that we read about or see in movies – the key that can unlock any lock. As is with many things that were limited to movies only, this idea has been brought to life by two engineers who have come up with a way to create a 3D printed ‘bump key’ that can achieve the same goal as that of a skeleton key. The 3D printed key is capable of unlocking the conventional locks without having the need to have a real key with you.
LockCon 2014 will be taking place later this month and that’s where the German engineer Christian Holler along with Jos Weyers will present their design for the bump key. The software used for this is Photobump and the procedure requires only a picture of the lock that you want to unlock in order to come up with a key that works like a charm, with a little application of force of course.
According to Holler; ‘While there are locks on the market, that are immune to bumping, a large quantity of locks in use is theoretically vulnerable.’ The bump key technique involves the ‘bumping’ – hence the constant mention of a little force – a particular key into a position in the lock. The grooves that are cut into the bump key allow them to unlock the lock. The bump key is made from blank keys; the flattened keys with no cuts at all.
The technique for making bump keys isn’t new here, but the approach to making it via 3D printing sure is. Holler says; ‘If you have the right software, getting a blank is easy. Basically, I take a photo [from the front], then I manually edit it in Photoshop or Gimp (it’s really easy) to give me a black/white silhouette of the profile. Once I have that, I import it into my software, specify the key length (that would also be guessed from the brand) and from that, I already get a 3D model that I can order from any online 3D printing service.’
However, he added that making a bump key can prove to be more difficult since the knowledge of precise pin distances and height is crucial. He makes use of a professional printing service to print these. The process could take days and upon being asked if a burglar would use this he responded with; ‘If he has enough criminal energy, then I guess, yes.’
He further contemplated about burglars and bump keys by saying; ‘One of the main reasons is probably that there are easier, destructive entry methods, and a burglar is not interested in non-destructive opening. At least here in Germany, only something below 0.2 per cent of all burglar attacks target the lock cylinder.’
He suggests that you should opt for locks that are immune to bumping if you feel that your security isn’t as good as it should be. However, he said; ‘The practical relevance of bumping (for burglars) seems to be overall low, so there is no reason to panic about this. People also haven’t panicked the last 10 years, although bumping was a well-known technique.’