Defeating a digital safe

I’m writing a screenplay in which a character has to break into a safe with a digital lock. To do so, he picks the brains of some locksmiths via the internet and figures out how to do it (or at least that’s the idea right now). So, two questions:

  1. Does anyone know if there are methods for defeating digital locks electronically?

  2. Does anyone know of any message boards, chat rooms, etc where one might be able to communicate with locksmiths?

Thanks for any help!

Moderator Advice
Anyone is free to answer this with a yes or no, but posting how to do it won’t fly. OK?

samclem, Moderator

I totally understand not explaining a potentially illegal activity and samclem’s response raises an additional hurdle for the character: how could he convince a locksmith to share that info with him?

Is this fiction?
Then write a fictional solution - have him make a “black box” to do it.

I read something where people would install an ATM skimmer and using infra-red glasses read the heat levels from the keypad to see what keys were warmer and used to that figure out the pin.

Why not? I remember there being a discussion a while back on defeating padlocks. How is this any different?

That thread is from 2001, they may have been less cautious in those days.

And the board was under different management.

There often are device-specific exploits for various brands of electronic lock mechanisms, and I’ll leave it to the reader to try searching for them.

However, I think it’s OK to mention things like social engineering where the Bad Guy buddies up to their mark (or their mark’s friends or coworkers) to get information like anniversary dates, kids’ birthdays, etc. You could even make it comic to have a combination lock set with their wife’s “unfortunate” measurements. “35-42-47” or something like that.

I bet the combination is hidden under a nearby painting.

In the words of the Anarchist Cookbook, the best lockpick is a quarter-stick of dynamite, followed by a big sturdy crowbar. This method works equally well on digital locks, analog combination locks, and key locks.

But if you just want something that will work well in a story, you could say that the lock has a “back door” built in; an extra combination pre-set at the factory regardless of what the user sets, so the company’s technicians can reset the safe if the customer forgets his combo. The protagonist gets in good with one of those technicians, and the technician gives him the code. You could even reveal it in the book, and it’d be plausible, without serving as a how-to guide for would-be criminals at all.

Chronos has a good idea there. Another would be to plant a tiny spy camera in the room aimed at the safe. That would record someone entering the combination. Granted, neither of these are new and clever solutions – they’ve been done a million ways in a million movies and TV shows – but they certainly work.

In the OP’s shoes, I’d consider some of the implications of this article, which is similar to what Chronos mentioned:

Richard Feynman got a reputation as a safe cracker during WWII.
In his autobiography he said that many people working on top secret stuff for the atom bomb had never reset the combo from the factory preset.
Or take the take the space modulator re-calibrate the flux capacitor in it and attach it to the Metzler port on the safe.
Hope the mods aren’t pissed that I gave out the method. :smiley:

Lots of good suggestions in a short amount of time. Thanks.

Without violating the moderator’s request to not give a real answer, can anyone tell me GENERALLY how some kind of code re-set might work? Would there be some kind of override code entered or is there some kind of device that a factory technician might use instead of the keypad?

Digital locks would possibly be much more difficult to defeat than the old S&G dial type of safe lock. I was trained in how to break into the latter types of locks, but it involved drilling at specific points that are classified to the general public. The notion that a safecracker can feel or hear tumblers falling is pure Hollywood fiction. However, while the type of lock may change, there are still mechanical bolts that must be thrown. Perhaps the protagonist of the play gains access to how to retract those bolts by bypassing the locking mechanism by using a safe drilling rig?


Both the first and the second could apply, based on my experience with the bank and retail security industries.

Well there is a way if the combination is not too complex. I’m not sure how to explain this without incurring moderator wrath though. I’ll just hint that if it was a 4 digit combination, you would only need to try 16 combinations to open the safe.

What about a sonic screwdriver?

Oh, I just remembered something. Go back in time and watch NCIS from last week. Abby uses this method to unlock a cell phone.

One of the safe combinations at a place I worked was referred to as “the combination you will never forget” We called it “almost the perfect woman” 36-24-52 :smiley: