3D printed keys open "high security" handcuffs

A hacker at HOPE presented a pair of 3D printed "high security" handcuff keys that unlocked cuffs whose designs are supposed to be secret and not widely available. They will shortly be on Thingiverse for you to download. Forbes's Andy Greenberg reports:

In a workshop Friday at the Hackers On Planet Earth conference in New York, a German hacker and security consultant who goes by the name “Ray” demonstrated a looming problem for handcuff makers hoping to restrict the distribution of the keys that open their cuffs: With plastic copies he cheaply produced with a laser-cutter and a 3D printer, he was able to open handcuffs built by the German firm Bonowi and the English manufacturer Chubb, both of which attempt to control the distribution of their keys to keep them exclusively in the hands of authorized buyers such as law enforcement.

The demonstration highlights a unique problem for handcuff makers, who design their cuffs to be opened by standard keys possessed by every police officer in a department, so that a suspect can be locked up by one officer and released by another, says Ray. Unlike other locks with unique keys, any copy of a standard key will open a certain manufacturer’s cuff. “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, which can be purchased (even in forms specifically designed to be concealable) from practically any survivalist or police surplus store, Bonowi’s and Chubb’s keys can’t be acquired from commercial vendors. Ray says he bought a Chubb key from eBay, where he says they intermittently appear, and obtained the rarer Bonowi key through a source he declined to name. Then he precisely measured them with calipers and created CAD models, which he used to reproduce the keys en masse, both in plexiglass with a friend’s standard laser cutter and in ABS plastic with a Repman 3D printer. Both types of tools can be found in hacker spaces around the U.S. and, in the case of 3D printers, thousands of consumers’ homes.

Hacker Opens High Security Handcuffs With 3D-Printed And Laser-Cut Keys (Thanks, Andy!)


  1. Does the picture actually show the key pattern for a “high security” handcuff?  A single diagonally slanted tooth?  That’s surprising to me.

  2. Handcuff keys are dirt simple. The standard Smith and Wesson one has a single square bump, and the high security has a second bump somewhere on it. 

    In their defense, the police aren’t usually locking up people with 3d printers in their bedrooms.

    1. Really, the security model of a handcuff is: “Sure, it would be trivial to open with a hairpin, if you had unobstructed use of both hands.  But we searched your back pockets for hairpins, and then handcuffed you.  Your move.”

    2.  As a developer, I learned THAT one a long time ago— when working on my first WordPress site.

  3. I can’t wait for the head line: “3-printers of mass destruction will allow all terrorists to escape gitmo!”

  4. Every time I see video of police cuffing protestors they’re really using something like a zip-tie that doesn’t use a key. I suppose you could 3D print yourself a scissors.

      1. I am given to understand that zipties made for immobilizing people, as opposed to securing goods, are made of metal.

  5. From the photo, it looks like these shapes were cut out of an existing sheet of material, not 3D-printed.

    1. From the article quote: “he precisely measured them with calipers and created CAD models, which he used to reproduce the keys en masse, both in plexiglass with a friend’s standard laser cutter and in ABS plastic with a Repman 3D printer”

      I assume the picture is the first of the two.

  6. Any thoughts on what might happen if you actually unlocked your handcuffs?
    Probably not good.

    1.  I think it depends on how fast you are and how distracted the people who cuffed you are.  If twelve people suddenly dropped their cuffs while being herded by two cops, pretty good chances for most of the escapees.

      I imagine if you’re willing to plan to bring a key and commit to this kind of behavior after you’ve been nabbed you’re not going to be pretty aware of if and when your chance is going to come.

    2. I suppose in theory you could do something like, wait until you’re not watched, ditch your drugs or other incriminating material, and then re-cuff yourself.

      A person who is totally not me tells me that she once got nabbed over a small bag of weed, cuffed, quickly patted down for obvious weapons, and put in the back of a cruiser.  There she managed (without removing her cuffs) to reach a concealed bag of pills and stuff them into an inconspicuous corner of the car.  The cops searched her more thoroughly a few minutes later, and then let her go with a warning.

  7. Plastic key, perfect for concealment (taped to the inside of a belt, for ezample), won’t show on a metal detector.

    1.  The “won’t show on a metal detector” feature is the important trick here, because it’s what makes this potentially more useful than a standard metal handcuff key.  (That, and it’s good for blog cred :-)

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