3D Printed ‘bump keys’ – are they a threat?

This week, (1/9/14), engineers claim to have invented a new technique for producing ‘bump’ keys using 3D printing technology. A ‘bump’ key is a method used widely by locksmiths to unlock doors through applied pressure and pushing a lock’s pins out of position. Though these types of universal keys are already accessible, the new process will allow a key to be produced without having ever seen the original key. Their software, Photobump, will only require a picture of the lock, as well as a few manufacturing details which are easily obtainable, detailing the lock’s pin positions.

The video pictured below demonstrates how a 3D printed bump key, made out of hard plastic, can successfully open a lock by repeatedly hitting they key whilst manoeuvring within the lock. After several seconds the lock is shown to be unlocked by the key.

plastic bump key

So, should you be worried about this new technique? Some people have voiced anger over the media coverage of this technological development as it can potentially inform burglars of new techniques of breaking and entering. However, as the key’s creator Christian Holler has pointed out, traditional bump keys are not a new phenomenon and have been on the market for many years. Use of bump keys remains a relatively unpopular burglarising technique as it is noisy and slow compared to more widely practiced methods. Indeed, Assa Abloy argued to Wired – in presumably the latter’s words – that it is an “expensive, unreliable trick that doesn’t work on some locks whose keys have hidden or moving parts”.

For the time being, it would seem that homes should remain safe from this new method.  Nonetheless, co-creator Weyers said to Wired that “lock makers should produce more bump resistant locks with electronic elements or unprintable parts… the world changes and now people can make stuff … Lock manufacturers know how to make a lock bump-resistant. And they had better.”