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Can a Master Lock be Picked?

Can a MasterLock be picked? That is a great question and one we will answer for prospective buyers as well as current owners. Let's see if it's possible, how easy it is to do, and how to protect against it.
MasterLock

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MasterLocks are all around us, but can they be relied on for security? Let’s take a look at how easy it can be to get through one of America’s most popular and trusted locks.

MasterLock remains one of the most popular locks globally, yet they are widely regarded as some of the most straightforward locks to bypass by the lockpicking community. Although they have attempted to improve over the years, poor quality control and bad design practices still allow them to be quickly opened. These vulnerabilities can be found throughout almost all MasterLock versions, allowing for a range of attacks, including picking, raking, and bumping.

How easy is it to pick or open a Master Lock?

MasterLock padlocks remain some of the easiest to bypass, with some locks opening in as little as a few seconds. This low security is particularly embarrassing compared to other lock brands such as ABUS, which hold up much better to traditional picking attacks, but why?

Much of the problems plaguing MasterLock are caused by their attempts to undercut the competition and save money. This problem is not only limited to MasterLock, as cheaper locks throughout the industry lack basic anti-pick features.

MasterLock does attempt to address this flaw in their higher-end products by introducing security pins in locks such as the No. 6230 ProSeries; although, this highlights another problem with their locks. Tolerance. 

MasterLock 6230
MasterLock 6230

Tolerance refers to how well two components of a lock fit together, with lower tolerance allowing the lock to be manipulated and opened more easily. With that said, making perfectly fitting parts is expensive and requires a large amount of time, often making it impractical for cheaper lock companies such as MasterLock. 

Types of MasterLocks

MasterLock produces over 300 variants of lock available on their website, with many locks falling into two main categories based on their locking mechanism.

Although there are exceptions, most common keyed locks use a pin and tumbler system. As the key is inserted, driver pins are moved above a shear line in these locks, allowing the plug to rotate and actuate a locking mechanism.

Most of the pins included in these keyways are cylindrical; however, to improve pick resistance, security pins may be introduced. These are available in a range of shapes that bind against the shear line as they are lifted and blocking the core from turning.

Master Lock’s other most common style of lock uses a combination to open instead of a key. This mechanism’s design can vary quite significantly, but, in general, once the correct code is entered into the lock, an internal locking bar can move freely to open the lock. 

Although locks come in a range of shapes and sizes, regardless of how they function, they can generally be picked or otherwise manipulated with enough patients. So, let’s have a further look at how we can bypass these locks.

How to pick open a keyed Master Lock

Locks can be picked relatively easily by artificially moving all driver pins above the shear line. Various techniques and approaches may be applied to achieve this and unlock the lock, yet three methods are particularly popular with Master Lock.

Single pin picking

Single pin picking aims to place each driver pin above the shear line individually. While the core is under tension through a tension wrench, the pins are lifted above the shear line and become trapped until they are all set, and the core can turn. 

With this method, it is typically best to move repeatedly from front to back until all pins are set, and the lock finally opens. 

This method is arguably the most complex explored in this article, but with only a few minutes of practice, it is possible to start seeing surprising results.

Raking

An alternative technique to single pin picking is raking, which attempts to quickly manipulate all pins in a single motion causing them to move above the shear line and open the lock.

With the lock under tension again, a waved pick is inserted into the keyway and rocked back and forth, resulting in pins setting as they move above the shear line. 

This method is one of the fastest and low-skilled required, however, it becomes less practical as security pins are introduced to the keyway.

Bump Keys

Picking attacks are incredibly popular; however, the keyway is vulnerable to a range of other attacks besides directly picking. 

Bumping is one example of this, which uses a specific style of key to open the lock.  Once the key is inserted into the lock body, it is hit from the back and quickly turned in a single motion.  In this move, energy is transferred into the driver pins, causing them to jump above the shear line and open the lock.

This attack can be rather delicate to pull off, requiring just the right amount of force, but with training, bumping can be one of the quickest methods of attack.

How to pick a combination lock

Although the mechanism behind combination locks is more complex, they are arguably much easier to pick in most cases. 

Again, various techniques exist for decoding and opening a combination lock; however, the simplest requires no tools.

Simply apply an upward pressure on the shackle to put the lock under tension and slowly rotate each dial. As each gate aligns with the locking bar, the dial should develop a significant amount of play indicating you are at the correct value. 

This technique can also be applied to rotary combination padlocks, as you look for changes in resistance with each small turn of the rotary face.

What to look for when buying a lock

Although we have seen how easily locks can be opened, they remain something we rely on almost every day. In some cases, just the appearance of a lock may be enough security to deter a potential threat but not always. 

When the quality of the lock matters, there are some best practices to follow.

  • Five pins offer a fair amount of security; however, many locks now are available with six, which can help hold off an attacker. A higher number of pins also increases the number of potential security pins in your lock, offering an extra level of protection.
  • Find a lock with a recessed keyway as this makes it harder for picks to be inserted and manipulated
  • Avoid any locks with plastic in the keyway (typically used as a bushing) as this is usually a sign of extremely poor tolerance
  • Beware of flashy marketing and instead trust a brand’s reputation. Locks are notorious for using buzz words, such as “pick proof” or “extreme security,” even though with enough skill, almost any lock in the world can be picked.

The biggest takeaway when buying a good lock is to be willing to invest. We trust locks to protect thousands of dollars’ worth of goods in some cases, and a bargain lock isn’t sufficient.

Protecting your current lock

A lock you can genuinely trust is likely to come with a price tag to match, meaning in many cases, it may be worth using your current MasterLock.

Although there are vulnerabilities with these locks, the vital thing is being aware of them and making informed decisions of what you trust them to protect. In these cases, reliability can be improved by limiting access to the keyway, such as by mounting the lock in awkward positions and blocking visibility to the lock.  

Conclusion

Securing your gear is critical in almost any situation, and hopefully a better understanding of your lock’s capabilities will help you make informed decisions. Like many other areas in the world of security, the best defense can generally be found in a good offense and knowing how locks are attacked offers one more tool in protecting against it.

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