3D printing technology exposes vulnerabilities in handcuff making
It’s being assumed that the restriction of access to certain tiny and precisely-shaped objects such as safety pins, metal wires, etc. ensures the security of high-end handcuffs. But, this belief of law enforcement authorities has been shattered by the invent of 3D printing technology and other DIY innovations.
A German hacker and security consultant, who prefers to be called by the name ‘Ray’, has exposed the loopholes in the making of handcuffs by demonstrating how plastic copies produced with a laser-cutter and a 3D printer can be used to open the handcuffs. This security gap was exposed by Ray during a workshop at the ‘Hackers on Planet Earth’ conference that was held from July 13-15 in New York City. He was able to open handcuffs built by the German firm Bonowi and the English handcuff maker Chubb, both of which attempt to control the distribution of their keys to keep them exclusively in the hands of authorized buyers.
Usually the manufacturers of handcuffs design their cuffs to be opened by standard keys that are possessed by every police officer in a department, so that a detainee can be locked up by one officer and released by another. Ray claims that unlike other general locks that come with unique keys, the cuff of a certain manufacturer can be opened by any copy of a standard key. “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, the keys of cuffs manufactured by Chubb and Bonowi cannot be purchased from commercial vendors. But Ray managed to procure the keys from eBay and from a source he declined to name. Then he precisely measured the keys with calipers and created CAD models that were used by him to reproduce the 3D printed keys en masse, both in plexiglass with a friend’s standard laser cutter and in ABS plastic with a Repman 3D printer. Both the tools are easily available from dozens of hacker spaces and, in the case of 3D printers, thousands of consumers’ homes.
Ray, who works as a computer security consultant, says that his motive is not to reduce handcuffs’ security by 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.”