Competitive lockpicker explains his sport

Kevin sez, "Schuyler Towne is a competitive lockpicker and professional security researcher, but mostly he's a charming geek who knows a lot about locks. In this video, Schuyler talks about his passion for locks, demonstrates simple lockpicking, and tells the story of the time he made it to the final match of the world lockpicking championship (spoiler alert: he lost). Schuyler Towne recently spoke at the DEF CON 19 Hacking Conference."

Know Your Locks


  1. I didn’t catch his talk, but I did catch the performance of the winner of Gringo Warrior at Defcon 19, and it was very impressive.

  2. Fascinating incite on winning by watching your opponent’s solution in the first round. In addition to the obvious implication that you need to learn this skill to compete, it begs the question, can you fake out your opponent by intentionally pursuing red herring solutions? Would it be worth accepting a slower time in your first round in order to do so?

  3. He described the guy watching him at the end and how that was good strategy.  Sounds to me like the other guy cheated.  That’s like watching your buddy’s side of the screen playing Halo.  Cheap.  

    1. Interesting to bring up the ethics of “cheating” in this context. You’d think the lesson of “if it’s not illegal, you’re allowed to do it” that’s inherent to the sport itself would apply? It’s competitive *lockpicking*.

      1. He has posted his thoughts on the ethics of lockpicking here:

        Fascinating take on it, whether you agree or not.

        1. Well what exactly is the problem? To pick a lock isn’t illegal, its you trying to trick a machine. Like I dunno code cracking in brain teaser magazines in comparison to I dunno break military codes… Plus I have never understood the idea that an action, in itself, can have moral or ethical value. It can only be said to be good or bad depending on circumstance, history and effect.

          So picking locks for fun is in itself as difficult and ethicly complex a subject as boxing at the gym or playing halo. It has no moral value in itself and since its beneficial not only to the person doing it in terms of using your brain, training on finger sensitivity; but to locksmiths and security people aswell (as with the master key dilemma which I’m sure they already know but as an example).

      2. In any “sport” or competition, using nefarious means to achieve a positive end result is tantamount to cheating.  Forget about any implications to the legality or illegality of lock picking. Whether it’s against the rules is obviously the “legal” definition of cheating, but it seems to me that a more fair way to compete in competitive lock picking would be to have a divider in-between the two combatants.  This way it’s based on skill, not on dirty tactics.  I’m just saying this because I feel bad for this dude.    

  4. What a cool job.  Too bad all the locks are going electronic these days.  Still, if you can find enough, “my grandmother kept this in her attic since I was a little kid but we don’t have the key” cases it could be really interesting.

    And let’s not argue the morality of lockpicking. Sure, it can be used to get into places you’re not wanted. It can also really save someone who locks themselves out of something they own.

  5. I just found out you can Schuyler to come and give lockpicking workshops!
    You can contact him through

    I’m going to try to get my company to do this as a team building exercise

  6. I just published novel about a blind thief — one of my favorite parts of the process was researching locks and lock-picking!  Though I had come across competitive lock picking, I had not known the two rules he mentioned (“never pick a lock you don’t own” and “never pick a lock that’s in use”) … pretty dang cool.  

  7. Oh, Hello folks. Schuyler here. I’d like to clarify something! Lockpicking, even competitive lockpicking, is a very social situation! We learn a great deal from talking to and watching one another pick. It’s all about collaboration and I would hate to have anyone thinking that the good Dr. was being nefarious when he watched me pick. Quite the opposite!

    We can learn so much from one another if we don’t stay so focused on ourselves. That was the lesson I learned. Not how to be sneaky :)

  8. The locks used in your competitions are not standard 5-pins, right? I learned about bump keys on scam school and it doesn’t seem like it would be much of a sport if that’s what you were using. Is making of locks part of the competition?

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