May 3, 2008

Zipper Security and Lock Bumping
Miami Beach, United States

I think about security a lot—be it physical or mental—it's always on my mind. It bothers me when a private room doesn't have a hasp that I can place a padlock on, when communal hostel rooms don't supply secure lockers or storage boxes, and that poles with hooks can be used to snatch belongings even through barred windows. Habit, routine, and a general distrust of others keep my belongings as safe as they're going to get.

If someone wants your backpack or to get into your room or home, few things will stop a motivated individual—the only variable is how long it takes. I know that the human element is generally the weakest link in any security setup, but what picks away at me are the shortcomings of the physical systems I use that grant greater peace of mind. Zippers and locks are the foundation of travel security, and it pains me to watch how easily they're overcome.

Your Locked Zippers Aren't Secure

Zippers pass themselves off as secure—we rely on them to keep our pants together and our luggage lids (and some backpacks) closed. The most disturbing part about the video clip I'm going to share with you is not how easy it is to gain entry into the bag, but how easy it is to cover it up. No bag slashing necessary when all you need is a ballpoint pen:

(video link)

Your Padlocks and Door Locks Aren't Secure

Assorted bump keys

There's an old locksmith technique that I'm going to introduce you to, if you haven't heard of it already, called lock bumping. Lock bumping is a lock picking technique that uses a modified key blank (called a bump key) and mild impact strike to open most any pin tumbler lock—the type of lock that likely secures your home, or most any padlock that uses a key. By simply cutting some keys down to serrated-like edges of sharp, even peaks and valleys, an amateur can break into a home or pop a padlock in less time than it takes to dial a phone number.

(video link)

(video link)

Bump keys can be easily made by someone with a $1 key blank and some time on their hands, or by purchasing a single or common key lock variety pack bundles off the Internet (from places like for as little as $3.50 per key).

Aside from loss of property and mental safety, bump key theft has also created an issue with insurance claims, as there is no discernible sign of forced entry.

In the United States, bump keys fall into the category of "burglary tool" in most states, although no state currently specifically lists bump keys in their Penal Code. The burglary tool designation requires that a police officer prove both possession and intent to use the tool in a burglary for a successful misdemeanor conviction.

Sad and scary, no?

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