3D printer helps pick locks in high-end security handcuffs

Man at hacker conference demonstrates how he made CAD models of restricted keys and produced plastic replicas, according to a Forbes report.

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While 3D printing has shown much promise in helping to treat physical ailments and disabilities, there may be more nefarious applications in the near future.

The security of high-end handcuffs can be defeated by plastic keys cheaply produced with a laser cutter and 3D printer, a man who identified himself as "Ray" demonstrated last week at a Hackers on Planet Earth conference workshop, according to a Forbes report.

His 3D-printer-produced replica keys opened handcuffs produced by German manufacturer Bonowi and British maker Chubb, both of which try to restrict distribution of keys that open their locks to law-enforcement agencies. Ray said he made precise measurements of the key, which he said was purchased on eBay, and created CAD models from which he produced copies in plexiglass and ABS plastic.

3D printing is executed on large machines that can spit out copies of digital designs on a wide range of materials, from polymers to recyclable plastics to metals. Some recent uses include the production of replacement jaws to the creation of new blood vessels.

However, the machines can cost tens of thousands of dollars and often turn out misprinted copies.

The demonstration also highlights a challenge faced by police departments, which typically issue a standard key to officers that open all the handcuffs used in that particular department.

"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."

Ray, a security consultant who also advises German police on handcuff technology, said he plans to upload the Chubb CAD files to the 3D-printing Web platform Thingiverse later this week. He said the goal of his demonstration was expose the vulnerabilities of handcuffs.

"If someone is planning a prison or court escape, he can do it without our help," he said. "We're just making everyone aware, both the hackers and the police."