Our fellow diners begin to stare. Tobias doesn’t notice and wouldn’t care anyway. He’s as rumpled and wild as a nerdy grizzly bear. His place mat is covered in diagrams and sketched floor plans and scribbled arrows. His laugh fits him like a tinfoil hat. It goes on for a solid 20 seconds.
But Tobias isn’t crazy. Far from it. He’s a professional lock breaker, a man obsessively—perhaps compulsively—dedicated to cracking physical security systems. He doesn’t play games, he rarely sees movies, he doesn’t attend to plants or pets or, currently, a girlfriend. Tobias hacks locks. Then he teaches the public how to hack them, too. […]
Bumping is simple: Insert a filed-down key into a lock, then knock it with a hammer to momentarily pop the lock’s pins into an open position. Like the Bic pen technique for defeating the Kryptonite lock, it’s perfect for opportunistic bad guys; any idiot with a few tools and minimal skill can use it to open most cheap front-door locks worldwide. Though well-known in Europe, bumping was still relatively obscure in the US—until Tobias began introducing it at hacker conferences in 2004.
Not surprisingly, news of the imminent bumping epidemic was media catnip. Tobias was interviewed dozens of times for the kind of scare pieces that local newscasts wedge between weather and sports. It didn’t take much to imagine all the paranoid scenarios: Kids study Tobias’ online video, crack the lock off Dad’s Glock, and put holes in things that shouldn’t have them. Enterprising junkies embark on habit-feeding crime waves. Hotel rooms, no longer secure, become magnets for burglary and rape. High school truants walk the halls shimming combination locks off rows of lockers. Crime gangs use Tobias’ case study to copycat the 2003 Antwerp diamond heist, while tech terrorists simply co-opt the master list of Marc Weber Tobias problems to outwit America’s Keystone Kop-homeland security and generally blow stuff up. The world is unzipped. And our innocence—not to mention a good deal of our cash, jewelry, and portable electronics—is lost.
Tobias shrugged off such concerns, along with the hate mail. Scaring citizens to attention is part of his educational program. “Do you really think ignorance will keep you safe?” he asks. “Is it even an option?” But what did worry him was the growing anger among members of the Associated Locksmiths of America, the largest lock-industry trade group in the country.