Did you know that one of the most popular types of locks on the market today may not be as secure as you might think? Scary as it sounds, if we stay informed about the current situation in the safety solutions market, we can significantly increase our options when it comes to protecting our home or business and safeguarding the things we value.
Lock picking has always been one of the major concerns in home and office security. In recent years, however, the situation got worse with the growing popularity of a lock picking technique called lock bumping – a fast and relatively easy way to open a lock using a specially made bump key.
As with many other lock picking methods, lock bumping was first invented by locksmiths to tackle the many typical lost key or damaged key cases, but it was quickly picked up by the criminal world and is now widely used for break-ins and burglaries due to its simplicity, low noise levels and the fact that it doesn’t leave any signs of forced entry behind.
So, what is a bump key and how does it work?
There are many types of locks out there, but one of the most commonly used today is the pin tumbler lock and it is exactly the type that can be relatively easily defeated by the lock bumping technique. This type of lock has at its core a cylinder (tumbler), which opens the lock when turned. Inside the lock there are also usually five (sometimes four, seven or even more) spring-loaded pins of different length that are pushed into the tumbler to prevent it from turning, thus keeping the door locked. Each pin, however, is split in two – and when those splits are aligned with each other they create what is called a ‘shear line’, allowing the cylinder to turn and open the lock. The cut-outs (‘hills and valleys’) on the matching key will push the pins into the correct positions to align the splits along the shear line, letting the tumbler turn.
A bump key has all the ‘hills’ filed down to the lowest height. When simply inserted into the keyway, the bump key will not yet open the lock, since it doesn’t push the pins to the correct heights required to align the splits along the shear line. After being inserted all the way in the bump key is then pulled out one notch – until one ‘click’ is heard (meaning the key slides out from under the very last pin). A slight rotational force is then applied to the head of the key with two fingers in the direction of the tumbler turning to open. Then a bumping tool (either a special small size bump hammer or any other similar tool, like a screwdriver, etc.) is used to lightly hit (bump) the key on the head, abruptly pushing it all the way in – and this is where the force of the bump transfers the kinetic energy from the key to the pins, making them ‘jump up’ for a split second, moving the splits in all pins past the shear line – and that is just enough to allow the tumbler to turn from the pressure being applied by the fingers. And that’s it! The whole process can take less than a minute, and doesn’t produce any noise at all. This makes it a very efficient method for breaking into a building compared to normal lock picking, which usually requires more time, more tools and a decent level of skill.
What should a home owner or a business owner know about bump keys?
The first thing to find out is what type of locks you have installed – and if they turn out to be pin tumbler locks, then you should be aware of the potential security threats due to the growing popularity of lock bumping.
These days there is an abundance of information online about how to make bump keys and how to use them to open locks. Most of the videos on this subject focus on lock bumping within the framework of lock picking as a hobby. And for many hobbyists lock picking is just simply trying to solve a tricky puzzle, without any illegal context or malicious intentions. However, this also means that virtually anyone with an internet connection can now learn how to open locks using the lock bumping method. There are many detailed tutorials online, with thorough and extensive descriptions of the whole process, and a lot of information is available regarding the tools and materials you need and where you could buy them. You can even easily purchase special transparent training locks to help you practice your lock picking skills. And it is because of all these readily available resources that lock bumping is becoming a bigger and bigger threat.
For the bump key to work, it needs to be made from a key blank of the same brand as the lock that is targeted to be bumped. When it comes to pin tumbler locks there is a great variety of brands, configurations and sizes. But thanks to the popularity of this type of lock, all of them are very easy to find. You can buy virtually any type of key blank online for just a few dollars, and then file it down to the necessary shape using simple hand tools. And often you can even find a ready-made bump key for certain brands of locks.
How can you protect your home or business against lock bumping?
There is a number of things you could do, some cheaper and simpler and some more expensive and elaborate. For example, you could install an extra one-sided deadbolt on your doors – it’s a simple, keyless knob that is only visible and accessible on the inside. It will protect your doors not only from lock bumping but from any other kind of lock picking as well, and it will enhance your home’s security when doors are locked from the inside – when you are at home, or if you are leaving the house through the garage door, etc.
One of the cheaper and easier options is to add some changes to your existing pin tumbler locks – some lock brands have certain lock designs that allow making anti-picking and anti-bumping modifications to the lock mechanism itself – for example, you could ask your locksmith to change the first pin in your locks with a ‘zero-lift’ pin, which will make bumping the lock with a normal bump key almost impossible. Doing this will, however, require you to get new keys cut for all the locks you have bump-proofed this way, as the profile on your old keys will no longer fit into the cylinders.
In some locks an anti-picking upgrade can be made, when some of the driver pins (the part of the pin that sits above the shear line) are replaced with special T-pins, while master wafers are inserted to sit on top of the corresponding key pins (the part the pin that sits below the shear line and is lifted by the ‘hills and valleys’ on the key) – this set up will make the cylinder seize up right after all the pins have been picked and not allow it to turn all the way to the open position, completely blocking the lock and rendering the lock picking attempt ineffective. The downside to this method is that the correct key will now no longer work and the lock will need to be dismantled from the inside, re-set and reinstalled for it to function properly again.
Old locks - maybe it is a good time for a change
If your locks are getting old and you are considering replacing them altogether, then you can choose a type of lock with higher security level – there are plenty out there, and some designs are completely bump-resistant, as they don’t use the standard pin tumbler mechanism.
Keyless lock systems are gaining more and more popularity in our rapidly developing world – electronic locking technologies, such as wireless smart locks or biometric locks, can completely eliminate any lock picking threats, while combination locks allow the convenience of not having to carry a key around.
Modern pin tumbler lock manufacturers are also trying to come up with extra features in their lock design that would make bumping more difficult. These can be pin-in-pin tumblers or added extra security pins etc., so certain types of pin tumbler locks are less susceptible to bumping than others.
Another way to enhance the safety of your home or office is to install a security door – it will make accessing your main door more difficult, adding an extra layer of protection against potential break-ins.
If you are concerned that your locks might be vulnerable and susceptible to lock bumping you can contact us to discuss the possible solutions – these will depend on a number of different factors, such as the type and brand of your locks, total number of entry points, material from which the doors and doorframes are made, age of the building itself, available budget, desired level of security, type of neighborhood you live in, etc. – but rest assured that whatever the case, we will be able to find a suitable option for you to ensure the safety of your home or business. Red Key LLC is your #1 locksmith serving Buffalo, NY metro area and all of the surrounding areas as well – and we are just a phone call away!