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This is the first in a series about lockpicking, and will highlight different lockpicking techniques and aspects of lockpicking culture.

Hackerspaces and makerspaces have played a role in revitalizing the do-it-yourself culture of communities. But the facilities don’t just offer access to tools or materials – they also offer a place to learn new skills and participate in some unique competitions. Locksport, competitive lock picking, is a popular activity in hackerspaces around the world.

(image: ashleyhennefer / Flickr)

Lock pickers enjoy the sport because it is essentially puzzle solving. It takes precise skill and technique to open locks, and these have to be adapted using different materials and approaches. It’s also become a form of open source security, because lock pickers make it a point to exploit security issues in locks to make communities safer and more aware of the weaknesses in locks on which many depend.

Ethics

While the sport brings to mind images of thieves’ dens, most lock pickers adhere to a strict code of ethics, many of which are highlighted in the famous Guide to Lockpicking. The guide was created by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1987, and provides an overview of picking methods. Locksporters follow guidelines, including:

  • Never pick a lock that isn’t yours, unless you have complete permission from another person
  • Don’t pick locks in public
  • Don’t pick locks you depend on, such as locks on the front door of your house
  • Don’t pick locks with the intent to steal or cause damage

Lock picking communities and organizations, such as The Open Organisation of Lock Pickers (TOOOL) or Locksport International (L.I), don’t tolerate members breaking these rules. L.I’s ethics page states, “Lockpicking should never, ever be used for illegal or even questionable purposes.”

Equipment

Locksport is an inexpensive activity that requires few tools. There are certain laws about having lock picks on your person, so check what the laws are in your state or country before you carry lock picks around. It’s also a good idea to invest in equipment as a group, so that you and other pickers can share picks, practice locks and other materials.

If you’re learning how to pick locks on your own, here’s some gear you’ll need:

  • A set of lock picks (I got my set from SouthOrd)
  • Practice cylinders – 1 pin, 3 pin, and 5 pin
  • Padlocks, different sizes for practice
  • Combination locks, if you are going to learn shimming (which will be covered later in this series)
  • Any other types of locks, unattached from doors, vehicles, furniture, etc. that can be used for practice. Visit SecuritySnobs.com for a list of lock types.

Recommended reading

Interested in getting started? Here are some essential texts to review before our first lesson.

MIT’s Guide to Lock Picking (as mentioned above)

Greg Miller’s Guide to Lock Picking for Beginners

Lock Picking 101 (helpful forums for novice or experienced lock pickers)

Locksport International’s Guide to Lock Picking

A Guide to Picking Locks, #1 and #2 by Anonymous (hard-to-find, but offers unique perspectives on picking)

The Complete Guide to Lock Picking by Eddie the Wire

Check back later this week for an overview on how to make a shim for combination locks!