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Hacker 'prints' key, unlocks high-security handcuffs

Image of protester handcuffed
In this file photo, an Occupy Oakland protester is handcuffed. 3-D printing technology can allow mass reproduction of hard-to-get handcuff keys.KIMIHIRO HOSHINO / AFP - Getty Images

Ever notice that criminals handcuffed at a crime scene are often de-cuffed by a different cop at the clink? That’s because cops carry a universal key to unlock any set of high-security handcuffs.

That’s a problem, according to a guy named “Ray” who unlocked two sets of these handcuffs with keys he reproduced with a 3-D printer and laser cutter, according to a report in Forbes

Makers of high-security handcuffs such as Chubb attempt to limit the distribution of keys that unlock their cuffs to, say, every officer in a certain precinct, Ray noted at the Hackers on Planet Earth conference in New York, where he demonstrated his picking skills.

These keys are unavailable via commercial vendors. While that offers some sense of security, it’s possible to get ahold of them – Ray found a Chubb key on eBay, for example – and now mass produce them with high tech tools.

To make the keys (he also got a key for Bonowi handcuffs from an unnamed source), Ray measured them with calipers and created CAD models. He then reproduced them in plexiglass with a laser cutter and ABS plastic with a 3-D printer.

Laser cutters and 3-D printer technologies are growing in popularity. Their uses have ranged from quirky replications of the Star Wars figure Yoda to a new jaw bone for an 83-year-old woman

The handcuff keys are a more sinister application, but a vulnerability that Ray believes is worth exposing.

He plans to post the CAD files for the Chubb key to the 3-D printing platform Thingiverse, but said he’ll refrain from posting the harder-to-find keys for other high-security handcuffs.

“If someone is planning a prison or court escape, he can do it without our help,” he is quoted in Forbes as saying. “We’re just making everyone aware, both the hackers and the police.”

Via CNET and Forbes

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.