Book Review: Practical Lock Picking

The whole concept of locksport or the competitive, hobby activity of picking locks was totally unfamiliar to me until I read Robert Vamosi’s book – When Gadgets Betray Us – that discussed gadgets and technology and its vulnerabilities.  It mentioned Deviant Ollam and included a lengthy discussion of the vulnerability of locks.  After reading about Ollam, I decided to see what was available as an introduction to lock picking.

Mr. Ollam has a how-to guide on lock picking called Practical Lock Picking:  a Physical Penetration Tester’s Training Guide.  As the title states, the emphasis is on the practical side.  This book is ideal for the novice locksport, for the curious, but also for those who are involved in physical security.  The text is informal and easy to understand.  I was a bit wary when approaching the subject but there are so many diagrams and designs that it was not long before I had the difference between driver and key pins completely clear in my head.

The interesting thing to me was how useful the information is from a personal privacy standpoint.  I finished the initial chapters that talked about key bitting and how the depth of the key notches are sometimes written on your key with a number.  I pulled out my house key and there was a 5 digit number, which makes it easy for a locksmith to replace my key.  Or someone else to figure out how each digit corresponds to a pin in the lock and speed access to picking it!

That is what I liked about this text.  By the end, I understood much more about what my keys and locks represented as well as the things I should look for in purchasing locks for my house or business.

I thought of Simon Singh’s The Code Book as I read Ollam’s lock picking information.  The books themselves are completely different in tone and scope but both deal with the explanation of a security measure and then the development of a countermeasure.  That countermeasure is then itself countered, and so on.  Ollam walks you through the basics of lock picking, the developments by lock makers of key channels that inhibit picking, of specialty key and driver pins to inhibit picking, and then techniques the locksport community have developed for getting around those improvements.

This is an interesting book in many ways, and whether you are thinking about locksport or just curious about those things that protect your house and office, it is worth reading.