The four reasons why lockpicking is an essential skill for IT

Guess what IT tool this is???

Last week, I was tasked with the rather mundane chore of performing a physical inventory of a server.  To give you some background, most of my clients are small businesses, which typically have no IT staff of their own and are very lucky if they have one “power user” on site. Luxuries such as documentation and maintenance are a rarity.

After years of faithful service, a certain client’s server sorely needed some attention.  When it was setup (years ago) the “C” drive partition was probably ample, but now they are in constant danger of some calamity or another because the drive is running out of space.  At the same time, the secondary partition has vast, unused, capacity.

Since this is a “delicate” server (no one has documentation or knows how to rebuild it if things really go south) my first order of business is a full inventory.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where our story picks up.

The final bit of my checkout of the server included physically verifying the make, model and capacity of its hard-drives.  I needed to verify that what we thought was connected and active, actually was.  As I was putting the side panel back in place, I somewhat absent-mindedly reached around front of the server to open the door and remove the drive trays.

“That’s funny,” I thought, “this doesn’t want to budge.”

Taking a closer look, to my dread, the case door was locked tight!

After quite a while of searching the typical places (near the server, on the server, in the server) I concluded that the key was missing.

Rather than feeling defeated, I was actually smiling.  Now I get to use one of my favorite IT tools, the Dyno Kwick Lock Pick.

Dyno Kwick Pick

In under a minute I had my lock pick out, opened the lock, had it safely stowed away and was on with my business.

The really great thing about this pick set is that it looks just like any other tool you might use.  It is less likely to raise a suspicious eye. If it does, it’s presentation goes a long way to say “I am a tool for getting a job done”, rather than “I am the tool of a criminal”.

I’m sure you can imagine plenty of times when this skill might have come in handy: unlocking a desk drawer that has been long forgotten, letting yourself in after being locked out, or even opening server cases as I have.

It is obvious to see how this skill can be useful to practically anyone, but I want to tell you why I think they are especially usefully to those in IT.

Reason One: It demonstrates that security is an illusion

This is a bold statement, but all security is an illusion.  Even the best lock (physical or digital) can only serve to slow down someones access, it can never completely keep anyone out. Any lock, with sufficient time, can be opened. It is just a matter of determination. Lock-picking will make a very concrete example of this.  Nothing can match the overwhelming feeling the first time you pick your first lock and think,It can’t be that easy, can it?”

Reason Two: It will test your perseverance

Undoubtedly, you will meet that one lock that will test your patience.  You studied and practiced, yet you just cannot get this one to yield.  You’ll want to swear and throw it across the room.  Through practice you will learn that all of these things are counter-productive.  The more tense you are, the harder and harder it will be to pick.  An essential skill for lock picking is to maintain a feather-light touch on the torsion wrench (the “L” shaped piece pictured above) while using your other hand to do the picking.  Any extra tension (literal and figuratively) can lead to you having to start all over.  This practice will help to reinforce the skill that all people in IT must have, grace under pressure.

Reason Three: It reminds you to be humble and to keep a “beginner’s mind”

Remember that lock that you have been practicing on for hours.  You’ve cursed, you’ve tossed it aside, and you’ve come back to finally get it.  One of your friends will ask you what this lock picking thing is all about, and they will pick that lock on their first try.  Why? Because, they didn’t know that they couldn’t do it.  Lock-picking will teach you to be humble and not focus on what others can do better, but to take an honest inventory of your skills and your progress.

Reason Four: It makes it easier to admit defeat

Sometimes, you will have to just admit defeat.  It might be for a few minutes, for an evening, or for even longer. In the end, being able to admit your limitations will allow you to focus on the things that are within your grasp.  It isn’t productive to waste energy on things that are out of your reach for the moment.  This isn’t to say you should give up on your goals or aspirations, but you should temper these with realistic measures of your abilities.  The knowledge of what you can do will fuel you to keep bettering yourself to eventually reach that next step.

Please consult your local laws on the possession, transportation and use of such tools

The laws and requirements vary from state to state and country to country.  Please do some research and see what those laws are in your area!  The lockwiki might be a really good place to start.

Here are some more sites to start your research:

So, does anyone out there have any unconventional skills that have helped them out in the IT world?  I’d love to hear from you!

Share

6 Comments

  1. Matt Simmons says:

    This is very cool. I’ve needed to open locks without keys on occasion, and I always resort to using my paper clip and improvising a tension wrench. I’m going to have to order one of these. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Zach Peters says:

    Matt, that handy paper clip is sounding about as useful as the towel from “Hitchhikers Guide”!

  3. John Arundel says:

    Great article, Zach – I recently took up lockpicking (just for the fun of it) so your headline caught my eye. I think as a hobby it has some of the same attractions that brought us to computing in the first place: fun, intellectual challenge, practical utility, a skill most people don’t have.

    My two tips for anyone interested in learning to pick:

    1. Understand the internal workings of the lock – pin tumbler locks are the easiest to start with, and you can find cutaways, diagrams and videos of their operation. Once you know what it is you are trying to achieve inside the lock, it’s much easier to do.

    2. Invest a few dollars in a set of real picks (you only need a small set: four or five picks and a couple of tension wrenches). As a beginner you’ll find these much easier to use than a paperclip or other improvised tools. Lockpicks are made from spring steel which allows them to be very thin to fit into the keyway, but still transmits good ‘feel’ from the pins and springs. Once you have successfully picked a few different locks with real tools, you’ll be able to do it with paperclips.

    If you really get into the subject, get hold of a copy of ‘Locks, Safes and Security’ by Marc Weber Tobias. At over 4,000 pages, it’s the bible of the physical security industry and contains an enormous amount of detail on the inner workings of every imaginable type of lock, and how to pick them.

  4. Zach Peters says:

    John,

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that you are drawn to lockpicking (and computing) because it is a skill most people don’t have. I don’t know about you, but that is a constant theme in my life – to try to discover something new or at least something that is uncommon!

    Like you, I’m still very much an amateur and I think your tips are great! Certainly, starting out with crummy tools just serves to frustrate you.

    The only other tip I would say to a beginner is that a lot (most?) of the technique is actually in the tension, not necessarily in the pick itself.

    Cheers and thanks for writing, hope to see you around!

    btw, that book looks *amazing*. It is going on my “if i win the lottery” wishlist.

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Arundel, Chisel. Chisel said: The four reasons why lockpicking is an essential skill for IT – http://j.mp/cDcJyk [...]

  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by bitfield: Lockpicking is fun (and useful). Why sysadmins need to know how to pick locks: http://bit.ly/ax1f5r (by @zpeters)…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> <pre user="" computer="" escaped="">