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'Locksporters' Pick Locks For Fun

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'Locksporters' Pick Locks For Fun

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'Locksporters' Pick Locks For Fun

'Locksporters' Pick Locks For Fun

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/121810687/121826814" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Schuyler Towne, a locksporter, says he can open a normal American door lock in 1 to 3 minutes. His fastest picking time in an international competition was 2 seconds, which opened the kind of lock found on European doors. Andrea Shea/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Shea/NPR

Schuyler Towne, a locksporter, says he can open a normal American door lock in 1 to 3 minutes. His fastest picking time in an international competition was 2 seconds, which opened the kind of lock found on European doors.

Andrea Shea/NPR

As he manipulates a skinny pick to defeat a lock, 25-year-old Schuyler Towne wants to make one thing very clear: Real "locksporters" abide by a strict code of ethics.

"Never pick a lock you don't own, and never pick a lock that's in regular use," Towne says.

Towne owns a heap of locks, and he's organizing them to build a "lock library" in Somerville, Mass. He hopes people will use it to study and conquer the devices' tiny inner workings. Like computer hackers, Towne has an affinity for cracking security systems.

"I pick low- to mid-security locks very, very, very, very quickly, as quickly as I possibly can. I have my tools custom-made so that I can pick locks faster. I practice obsessively so that I can pick locks faster," Towne says.

Towne practices so he can beat his rivals in lock-picking contests. He competes at hacker conventions such as Def Con in Las Vegas, where he even presented a lecture titled "Locksport: An Emerging Subculture."

Locksport is popular in other countries, like Holland, which hosts a big contest called the Dutch Open. But in America, Towne says, Locksport is an underground pursuit. He hopes to change that.

Jim Pasco, the executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, wishes that Towne wouldn't.

Towne keeps his custom-made lock-picking tools in a case sewn by his mother. Andrea Shea/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Andrea Shea/NPR

Towne keeps his custom-made lock-picking tools in a case sewn by his mother.

Andrea Shea/NPR

"Well, I'm unaware of any sport like, 'Let's pretend we robbed a bank.' "

Pasco says he takes issue with a sport that glorifies skills associated with breaking and entering.

"It would be a great place for a criminal, or would-be criminal, to educate him or herself on how to gain access to premises not his or her own," Pasco says.

The fact is, detailed lock-picking videos are all over YouTube. And while there is a shady side to recreational picking, some people in the security industry defend it because it reveals vulnerabilities.

John Loughlin designs locks for a company called Stanton Concepts. When he finishes a prototype, he lets locksporters take a whack at it first.

"It provides a platform, a test platform, sort of an open critique of an idea, so that things can be changed and tweaked and improved before a product might go to production," Loughlin says.

That, Loughlin says, helps his bottom line.

And while lock-picking can be good for business, the most obsessive locksporters aren't looking to get paid for their handiwork. Instead, they say they live for the chance to solve these tiny metal puzzles in competitions, where they race to open any lock faster than anyone else.

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