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The Myth of the Unpickable Lock

February 21, 2018


Many people believe in something known as an “unpickable lock.” This Holy Grail of locks is believed to be completely safe and secure, protecting homes against any intrusion attempt short of dynamite (or, as Matt and John used to demonstrate on the old TV show, “It Takes a Thief,” simply entering through an unlocked door or window). In reality, though, no such lock actually exists. Let’s unravel the myth of the unpickable lock.

Lock Mechanics

There are innumerable locks on the market, and they look very different from each other on the surface. Yet all locks have one basic thing in common: they are designed to both lock and unlock. Without both functions working properly, the lock is useless.

Another basic truth about all locks: to unlock a lock, you need a key. This might be a physical object, a keypad code, a code entered on a dial, or even a remote transmission from a device. No matter what form the key takes, though, it manipulates the internal mechanics of the lock, allowing it to be opened.

How Lock Picking and Manipulation Work

Since one of the two basic functions of a lock is to unlock, then it stands to reason that it will unlock if it is fooled into receiving the proper key pattern. In a lock with a physical key, this concept is easy to understand. The key has a specific pattern of notches that, when inserted, align the pins inside the lock in such a way that the key will turn and the lock will unlock.

Physical lock picking, then is simply a matter of replicating both the pattern of the key and the process of inserting it. Lock picking is not simple, especially for more secure locks. It may take some special tools and a great deal of patience. With enough tools, skill, and time, though, any lock that uses a physical key can eventually be picked.

An electronic lock that operates with a key card, fob, or other device cannot be physically picked. However, it can still be manipulated. The device, known as a token, sends an electronic code to the lock. If the code is correct, the lock will open.

What is important to remember here, though, is that the code does not physically exist. The device does not change, or cease to exist, if the code is removed. Therefore, then, the presence of the physical device is unimportant. What is important is the code, or the ability to create a bypass so that the code is no longer needed. This involves software hacking and can be pretty complex, but again, given the right tools and skill, and enough time, any electronic lock can eventually be manipulated.

The Unpickable Myth

The myth of the unpickable lock is believed to date to the Industrial Revolution. New ideas that had seemed impossible were rapidly coming to fruition, and simple locks were giving way to more and more secure alternatives. It must have seemed only a matter of time until someone invented a lock that could not be picked. By the 1850s, though, science began to realize that this was impossible. As long as one of the functions of a lock is to unlock, there is no way to make it immune to picking.

However, the myth of the unpickable lock gained new life with the Golden Age of cinema. Then, as now, an unpickable lock was an ideal plot device for heist movies. Somewhere along the line, movie magic became cemented in the public consciousness as something that actually exists.

While the unpickable lock may be a myth, though, there are some grains of truth. There are locks that no one has ever picked (yet). And more to the point, burglars know that the more time it takes to gain entry, the more likely they are to get caught. There are certainly locks that take a long time to pick or manipulate, and the vast majority of would-be criminals will simply move along rather than contend with such a lock.

Texas Premier Locksmith is known as one of the premier locksmith companies across the state of Texas. If you are ready to form a relationship with a reliable, trustworthy locksmith, please give us a call today at (866) 948-8188.