The security of high-end handcuffs depends on a detainee not having access to certain small, precisely-shaped objects. In the age of easy 3D printing and other DIY innovations, that assumption may no longer apply.
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.”