*Notably well executed.
My first memory of lock picking was in a X-Files episode – probably Special Agent Fox Mulder using a pick without a turning tool. With my interest piqued, I used my high school ID card as a door shim, and hairpins and paper clips as picks with moderate success as lockpicks until I came across the MIT Guide to Lock Picking.
My first real pick set was from a SouthOrd brand and their keychain multi-pick tool. With practice, I became proficient just enough to pick locks when I was in a jam. It was a brief phase, and really hadn’t picked it up against until a few years ago when I attended Rift Recon’s Art of Escape. It was then I learned lockpicking is, indeed, a perishable skill. With my interest renewed, I practiced with the new set that was provided to us in Rift Recon’s class with Master padlocks, and a few other random locks I’ve collected over the years. Though I felt I was sufficient with the basics, I was elated to learn the facilitator of Lockpick Village, Deviant Ollam, was going to instruct a course focusing on physical security through Triple Aught Design.
The Core Group, a first through Triple Aught Design’s CORE program, offered not just hands-on lock picking instruction, but a wholesome understanding on existing physical security vulnerabilities, how they are attacked, and the tools and pedagogy necessary to inspire attendees to develop those skills in the classroom and at home.
The instructors, Deviant Ollam and Robert Pignor, are experienced and well versed in physical security. Ollam has an established history as a public speaker and facilitator of learning. Ollam is well known in the lockpicking community: he member of the Board of Directors of the US division of TOOOL, runs Lockpick Village, and conducted several training sessions, along with Pingor, at Black Hat, DefCon, and more. Pingor, with several years served with distinction at the National Security Agency, keeps himself busy not only through The Core Group, but through Nomad Tactical.
For the uninitiated, you may be familiar with Ollam’s gun related videos
The class began with a thorough introduction to lockpicking as a sport, the mechanism of the common lock, and the critical imperfection of pin and tumbler locks that make them vulnerable to picking. Even with some knowledge of lockpicking under my belt, I found the visual aids Ollam created and made available under Creative Commons licensing, paired with his and Pingor’s instruction, exemplary.
As we moved along, we worked through the tools that were provided for us to keep: a twelve piece pick set, Bogota Pi® Toolset, three piece jiggler set, traveler hook, a Kwikset bumpkey, a mini jim, a cuff shim, and an EZ decoder.
In addition, a few wafer, tubular, ward, and multi-wheel combo locks were available for us to explore and practice.
The course was set up with progressive training locks varying from levels 1 through 8 along with lockpick stands available to fully appreciate a lock mounted on a vertical surface. Locks 6 through 8 included security pins, and brass pins that make it more difficult to pick and impression. Bumping was reviewed, but certainly not as fun.
Tubular lockpicking was discussed in detail, but it proved harder than anticipated. I believe if there were enough tubular locks and lockpicks to go around, I would have eventually figured it out. On the other hand, I’ll submit that my interest in tube locks didn’t fare well against impressioning.
Impressioning as a technique, and a sport, was probably the most intriguing aspect of the class. Impressioning is essentially jamming a blank key up against the pins to create small marks to file down in tiny increments. The final product is essentially a duplicate key for the lock. The impressions were faint enough that it occasionally required a mini-magnifier with a light. In any case, I rarely take photos in class environment, but I thought it was so cool, I have the one and only photo from the class of a successful key I impressioned.
Aside picking, Ollam and Pingor reviewed bypass attacks with the EZ Decoder, and shims on Master wheel padlocks. Other bypass techniques were explained: elevators, automatic doors, regular doors, etc.
Handcuff picking and bypass techniques were also explored – particularly models with double lock capability. It’s straight forward with a concealed key you may have in possession, but they don’t always fit. Trying to pick a double lock handgun behind your back with a hairpin proved more difficult, but rewarding.
Toward the end of the class, Pingor lead instruction on basic unarmed defense, and firearm redirection and takeways. This module required some physical exertion – nothing to sweat too much about. However, it wasn’t an advertised module in the course description. It would have been appreciated if it were, as I would have packed other clothes aside boots and jeans. Pingor’s reason for including this module was a desire for students to leave with some skills to potentially avert a kidnapping scenario.
A culmination of the skills learned from escaping handcuffs, and firearm takeaway techniques were eventually used during the live exercise. The scenario may essentially be described as performing a physical task, i.e., performing 25 burpies in boots and jeans, sitting in the driver seat of a car, and executing dummy-pistol takeways against various positions inside the vehicle. This was followed by a commanded to leave the vehicle at dummy-gunpoint, cuffed, and stuffed into the trunk of a sedan on a public San Francisco street (The reaction from passer bys was interesting in itself.). Inside, the only light available was a luminescent emergency trunk door release handle to pick your way out of the double locked cuffs while the vehicle was operating. Success in this exercise was objective, but the goal was to escape from the cuffs, fight your way out of the trunk during a complete stop, and escape to safety. You do not win any points by escaping the trunk while the vehicle was operating.
I didn’t get out of the cuffs, but I did manage to run away after bolting out of the trunk. Don’t judge.
As participants completed the live exercise one by one, a lockpicking competition was available. Unfortunately, only a handful participated. It may be other attendees were coy, preoccupied practicing escaping handcuffs, or being curious spectators of the live exercise themselves. I think a healthy atmosphere of competition could have been better fostered.
With enough interest, and access to equipment, you can teach yourself using the material Ollam made available online. Ollam’s YouTube and Vimeo videos are plentiful and equally informational. What Ollam and Pingor provide in a classroom, however, is an equipped lab for students to explore with the very tools that are commonly used in the sport of lockpicking or physical penetration testing.
Overall, the course was extremely well executed by two very experienced instructors, with solid material, deliberate planning, and a very attractive cost. Do not attend this class with an expectation to become a penetration testing badass in two days. Instead, expect to learn, or reinvigorate, a fulfilling sport with practical application in everyday life.
The Core Group will be visiting San Francisco again in November 2015. I encourage anyone who always wanted to learn how to pick locks, but never got around to it, have a high puzzle drive, or looking to polish your lock picking skills, to take this class.