Locksport is the practice of lockpicking as a hobby, usually in a group. Locksport practitioners cite recreational, social, and competitive values as their primary motivation. Like their digital security counterparts, locksport groups emphasizes learning and entertainment over malicious activity.
The popularity of locksport has dramatically increased in recent years due to increased awareness of lock and safe related vulnerabilities and the creation of many dedicated locksport groups around the world.
The origins of locksport date as far back as the 1850s, when lock manufacturers began to take security seriously. There were public competitions held to tout the security of new locks. Of course, lock makers expected their locks to be unpickable, and often offered substantial rewards for a successful picking. The Bramah company was one of these manufacturers, and had an outstanding open challenge dating back to 1801.
In 1851, American locksmith Alfred C. Hobbs was sent to London's "Great Exhibition of 1851" to advertise the Parautopic Lock on behalf of New York lock maker Day & Newell. Hobbs claimed that he could easily defeat the best lock at the time, one made by the Bramah company. Bramah accepted his challenge. Hobbs was given a sample lock, a collection of blank keys, and thirty days to pick the lock. After 24 days, in front of both judges and spectators, Hobbs opened the Bramah lock with a key he had made. When challenged as a fluke by judges, Hobbs proceeded to lock, unlock, and relock the Bramah with the same key. The manufacturer was upset; until then the lock was thought impenetrable. They claimed Hobbs had used a trick, just got lucky, or that the lock was damaged in some way. Regardless of their claims, Hobbs proved his claim, and gave the lock industry a clear goal: develop better locks. Though the event would plant the seeds for later generations of lockpickers, it would take over a hundred years for locksport to return.
Security conferences began to emerge in the early 1990s and the challenge of breaking digital security was a popular pastime. Out of this a curiousity for locks developed, and many hackers began to explore locks, safes, and physical security. These conferences became the base for a large community of lockpickers and physical security experts. Many of these same people would create the locksport community.
In 1994, while attending the HOPE security conference, Steffen Wernéry bought his first pick set at a nearby spy shop. Wernéry was not a complete stranger to lockpicking; he had made a crude pick set at the age of 12. Together with his friend Juergen Dreessman he began learning the theory and application of lockpicking. Wernéry and Dreessman grew increasingly interested in locks, both learning a great deal about lockpicking and the peculiarities of certain locks models. The two would go on to give a lecture on lockpicking at the 1996 Chaos Communication Congress, a German security conference. In 1997 the pair founded Sportsfreunde der Sperrtechnik (SSDEV), the first established locksport group, in Hamburg, Germany. SSDEV held the first locksport competition in 1997, named The German Open ("Die Deutschen Meisterschaften" in German).
In the years that followed The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers (TOOOL) was founded in the Netherlands. TOOOL quickly became an influential group, being one of the first groups to publish information regarding key bumping as well as working with European lock makers to disclose security vulnerabilities. In 2004 Eric Michaud met with Barry Wels at the HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth Conference) and with a anonymous co-founder set the stage for TOOOL US. Eric and the Co-Founder quietly started a TOOOL US chapter at Princeton University, where in 2006 with the later addition Babak Javadi, Eric Schmeidl, and Schyuler Towne at the HOPE conference that year announced TOOOL US to the public.
Though locksport competitions were usually an event at many US security conferences, it wasn't until 2005 that a serious locksport group was created. Locksport International (L.I) was founded by Josh Nekrep, Kim Bohnet, and Devon McDormand in 2005. In early 2006 the Longhorn Lockpicking Club at the University of Texas at Austin was founded by Doug Farre and was later incorporated into Locksport International. The publishing of bumping vulnerabilities was around the same time, and the popularity of locksport started to increase.
In late 2006 the Fraternal Order Of Lock Sport (FOOLS) was formed by a group of people looking for their own identity in the lock sport community. FOOLS organizes the lock picking village at Notacon, and help at various other conferences. Club member Valanx recently unveiled the Kwikset SmartKey Decoder at Shmoocon 2009, other members are designing tools to open and decode other high security locks.
In July 2010, Schuyler Towne began collecting money to develop a line of lockpicks for his "Open! Locksport" company. The collections ended in September 2010 with $87,407 (1,456%) raised towards his $6,000 USD goal.
Lock Pickers United (LPU), a group of locksport enthusiasts, created the Belt Ranking system, a tiered classification of locks. It emulates the color-coded belt rankings commonly used in martial arts disciplines and functions primarily to acknowledge achievements in lockpicking and related skills. The rankings attempt to provide a framework for quantifying skill and progress in locksport.
The practice of lockpicking is generally legal if you own the lock being picked or have the permission of its owner. Possession, creation, and distribution of tools may not be, depending on where the group is located. See the legal issues page for more information.
Most groups state their unwillingness to associate with or assist unscrupulous individuals. Locksport groups encourage learning and entertainment rather than criminal activity. The level of skill and training required for lockpicking deters most criminals from joining locksport groups. In addition, most locksport group members are vigilant in watching for people with malicious intent. Some groups go as far as requiring all new members to be introduced by existing members. One such group is TOOOL (European branch only).
Many locksport groups have had a positive impact on the lock industry by disclosing (publicly and privately) vulnerability information to manufacturers. While many locksmith organizations frown upon this practice, disclosure has led to improved designs of many locks and increased consumer awareness of the security risks present in certain locks. The increased locksport and media attention on vulnerabilities in recent years has also influenced many security rating organizations to re-evaluate current standards.
- Also see Current Events
- LockCon (formerly The Dutch Open), various
- ACF Festival
- DEFCON, various
- HOPE, various
- LockFest, various
- Wendt Lockpicking Championship
- Teams of a given size are assigned a sack full of locks. They must blindly take one lock each out and attempt to pick it open. Locks cannot be traded between team members; to get a new lock you must put it back in the sack, shake the sack and get a new lock. The team with the most locks open after a given amount of time wins.
- Gringo Warrior
- Competitors square off in a scenario contest which requires them to defeat locks of increasing difficulty in an attempt to escape from a fictitious Mexican jail. Points are awarded based on time, the difficulty attempted at each stage, and personal flair or creativity.
- Lockpick Wizard
- Competitors are blindfolded and must pick as many locks as they can without being able to see their tools or the locks they have been given. The person with the most locks open after a given time limit is the winner. Usually played in rounds, with the best scores moving on to the next round.
- The Defiant Box
- Competitors work in teams of two and are handcuffed together. Each team has five minutes to pick sets of locks (each partner is given a duplicate lock) before escaping from the handcuffs.
- Also see Community Portal
- The Open Organisation of Lockpickers, US Chapter (TOOOL US)
- The Fraternal Order of Lock Sport (FOOLS)
- Longhorn Lockpicking Club (LLC)
- Fale Association of Locksport Enthusiasts (FALE)
- Detroit Locksport
- Locksport International (L.I) (Defunct)
- Sportsfreunde der Sperrtechnik - Deutschland e.V. (Sport Enthusiasts of Lockpicking/SSDEV)
- The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers (TOOOL NL)
- The Open Organisation Of Lockpickers, UK Branch (TOOOL UK)
- Ganzuando (Spanish Locksport Group)
- Lockpicking in France
- Lockpicking i zabezpieczenia (?)
- OpenLocks Österreich (?)
- Schlösser picken als Schweizer Sport (Swiss Lockpicking Group/SPASS)
- The Italian Lockpickers Club (TILC) (and TILC Forum)
Locksport in the Media
Locksport has received an increasing amount of media attention as more clubs are formed around the world, particularly in the United States. Media attention has primarily focused on the ethical side of lockpicking as a hobby and group responsibilities for member selection and information disclosure.
- UTD Mercury. Lock-picking club feels responsibility is key.
- The Wall Street Journal. The joys of picking locks, the secret world of bumping.
- Daily Texan. Lock-Picking College Students Help Police, Friends.
- News 8 Austin. Lock picking hobby requires honesty.
- Chicago Tribune. Pick a lock. For fun. (It's legal too).
- ABC News. Lock Picking for Sport Cracks the Mainstream.
- Kiffmann, Kurt (2023). Locksport Handbook to Challenge Locks.