Unlocking Insecurity: 3D Printers Create Bump Keys
With downloadable software for 3D printers making their use rife across variety of the users, it looks like 3D printers are here to stay. While we hear news of ice creams and even buildings being built using this wonder of a technology, we believe 3D printers might be the best thing to ever happen to this planet. However, every good thing comes at a cost; and so do 3D printers. There is now a rising concern about how this technology might be used for illegal purposes and cause security issues.
Lock pickers are most likely to benefit from 3D printers because now they can simply duplicate a key without having to go to the locksmith. And work has already begun on this field, where engineering lock pickers Jos Weyers and Christian Holler are now able to 3D print a slice of plastic or metal that can open high-security locks within seconds, without even seeing the original key design.
Weyers and Holler have 3D printed a bump key, which looks like a normal key but can open millions of locks with the cautious rap made on its head. The software they have designed for this purpose is called Photobump, which can bump open a wide range of locks easily, using key designs based on photographs of the lock keyholes.
Even if you don’t own a 3D printer, you can order the bump keys from 3D printing services like Shapeways that “doesn’t have any specific policies around printing keys or lock picking tools, but it is up to our users to responsibly comply with our overall guidelines,” as told by the company’s spokesperson.
Lock bumping has been an old trick. Basically, it involves inserting a key blank (a key with no specific “cuts”), one pin short of the pin and tumbler lock. A pin tumbler lock is a combination of pins, the key pins which touch the key, and the driver pins which rest on top of the key pins and are attacked to the springs.
When the key is bumped – pushed with a force from a hammer – the key slides in, allowing the driver pins to slightly jump from the force, and create enough space for the static key pins to move about the lock cylinder. The animation below depicts the process clearly:
With the mechanism of the bump keys and even the countermeasures against it are available everywhere. This means that the bump keys are going to become more threatening for our security. However, Weyers and Holler have announced that their PhotoBump software is not intended for public use, and they have actually created these keys to make the locksmiths more cautious about the impending danger.
Weyers, who is also working with the police department to find out if bumping keys can be proof of any forensic evidence, says that lockmakers should focus on designing bump resistant locks with electronic elements or unprintable parts. Though 3D printing keys is not a completely reliable way of opening locks, it doesn’t mean people will let go of delving into techniques to bump locks. “The sky isn’t falling, but the world changes and now people can make stuff,” he said.