It’s one thing to have a criminal break their handcuffs or pick them, it’s another when it’s high security handcuffs.
An excerpt from Forbes.com
Even Police are having issues with key duplication
The security of high-end handcuffs depends on a detainee not having access to certain small, precisely-shaped objects. In the age of easy 3D printing and other DIY innovations, that assumption may no longer apply.
In a workshop Friday at the Hackers On Planet Earth conference in New York, a German hacker and security consultant who goes by the name “Ray” demonstrated a looming problem for handcuff makers hoping to restrict the distribution of the keys that open their cuffs: With plastic copies he cheaply produced with a laser-cutter and a 3D printer, he was able to open handcuffs built by the German firm Bonowi and the English manufacturer Chubb, both of which attempt to control the distribution of their keys to keep them exclusively in the hands of authorized buyers such as law enforcement.
The demonstration highlights a unique problem for handcuff makers, who design their cuffs to be opened by standard keys possessed by every police officer in a department, so that a suspect can be locked up by one officer and released by another, says Ray. Unlike other locks with unique keys, any copy of a standard key will open a certain manufacturer’s cuff. “Police need to know that every new handcuff they buy has a key that can be reproduced,” he says. “Until every handcuff has a different key, they can be copied.”
Unlike keys for more common handcuffs, which can be purchased (even in forms specifically designed to be concealable) from practically any survivalist or police surplus store, Bonowi’s and Chubb’s keys can’t be acquired from commercial vendors. Ray says he bought a Chubb key from eBay, where he says they intermittently appear, and obtained the rarer Bonowi key through a source he declined to name. Then he precisely measured them with calipers and created CAD models, which he used to reproduce the keys en masse, both in plexiglass with a friend’s standard laser cutter and in ABS plastic with a Repman 3D printer. Both types of tools can be found in hacker spaces around the U.S. and, in the case of 3D printers, thousands of consumers’ homes.
Over the weekend, a lockpick vendor at the HOPE conference was already selling dozens of the plexiglass Chubb keys for a mere $4 each. Ray says he plans to upload the CAD files for the Chubb key to the 3D-printing Web platform Thingiverse after the annual lockpicking conference LockCon later this week.
I reached out to both Chubb and Bonowi’s parent company Assa Abloy over the weekend, and will update this story when I hear back from them.
Ray also tried creating duplicate plexiglass key for high-security handcuffs from the German manufacturer Clejuso, but found that when the cuffs were fully secured the plexiglass wasn’t strong enough to overcome their internal springs. An attendee at the workshop helpfully suggested he try laser-cutting the stronger material Lexan instead.
Ray, who typically works as a computer security consultant but has also advised the German police on handcuff technology, says his goal isn’t to reduce handcuffs’ security so much as to exposing their vulnerabilities. His tools, he argues, are already available to criminals along with the rest of the public. “If someone is planning a prison or court escape, he can do it without our help,” says Ray. “We’re just making everyone aware, both the hackers and the police.”
He points out that police are trained to always monitor a handcuffed person, though officers might violate that rule if they believe their handcuffs are absolutely secure. “People tend to forget this rule if they think the key is secret,” he says. “And the more they believe the key is secret, the more risk there is.
Even so, Ray says he won’t post CAD models of the Bonowi or Clejuso models online, given that those keys are harder to obtain and providing blueprints for their reproduction could in fact reduce their real-world security. But the availability of the Chubb keys should serve as something of a wake-up call: The cuffs’ applications include restraints for airplane passengers. Ray points out that his plastic keys can easily be carried through airport security.
The spread of ever-cheaper 3D printers and other computer-aided home manufacturing tools is raising thorny issues for any company or government hoping to control the distribution of shapes, from Legos to firearm components. In fact, Ray’s HOPE demonstration wasn’t the first time he’s posed the problem for handcuff makers. In 2009, he reproduced simpler, more easily obtained keys used by Dutch police at another hacker conference in Vierhouten in the Netherlands.
“In Holland we showed the police first,” Ray says. “They weren’t interested, and didn’t want to try it. So we demonstrated it anyway.”
In this case, Ray gave no such forewarning to law enforcement or to the cuffs’ manufacturers. But he says he’s confident that his work on ubiquitous key reproduction is bringing important light to a security issue–not creating one.
“People who have a high value goal don’t mind the cost of using a higher cost method. Someone with a higher criminal goal doesn’t care if it takes one dollar or one hundred dollars to make this key,” he says. “Lock security was broken before. I’ve just made it easier.”