TV Trope about Safes Busted!!!

I went by the State Recycle/Salvage place and bought a Mosler fire rated GSA 5 drawer file cabinet. Took 3 of us with a dolly to get the heavy so and so in the house. It must weight 500 lbs. Mainly because it’s fire rated.

like this. except mine is wider for legal size paper

I got it for $125 because the state agency that turned it in had lost the combination. I figured it was worth spending a couple hundred to get it open. These things sell for over a grand new.

We’ve all seen movies & tv with various black boxes to open safes. Usually an amplifier to hear the tumblers. Or a box with lights that flash when the tumblers are in sequence.

This is a file cabinet. Not a safe for the crown jewels of England. Shouldn’t be hard to open right??

I called 4 locksmith places in town. Turns out there isn’t any kind of black box that opens combination locks. Nothing. No stethoscopes or anything else. The Trope is complete and utter crap.

The only way to open it without the combination was to drill a hole. I assume to see the tumblers. Permanently damaging the safe / file cabinet. Could have cost me three or four hundred bucks. (more in my case because the locksmith found a hardened steel plate protecting the lock. would have taken a long time to drill)

Lucky for me. The locksmith brought the Mosler factory combination to try and it worked!!! Thank goodness no one had ever changed it. He only charged me $75 for the service call.

Isn’t it amazing. In 2010 there isn’t anything to open these things? I knew the TV Trope greatly over simplified the process. You aren’t getting a bank vault open with an electronic black box. But, a file cabinet?? Sure thought there would be some gadget out there that locksmiths could buy.

I used to have a two-drawer one. Heavy SOB. (And I did have the combination.)

I got the default combination changed. I took no chances. I got four cards with the new combo. One went in my safe deposit box at the bank. I wanted to be certain it never got lost.

Talaris TCD’s (Teller Cash Dispensers) ship with the safe combination code 1-2-3-4-5-6 for person A, and 9-9-9-9-9-9 for person B. No joke. The combination can be reset if the security panel is disconnected (for you would-be bank robbers out there, that means making friends with an ADT employee) by entering those two codes again, but requires a 72 hour waiting period before it will unlock.

Then again, these things sell for A LOT more than what the OP is describing…

I’d have tried the stethoscope thing, just to see if I could do it.

There’s a great section in Richard Feynman’s autobiography about cracking the combination locks on file cabinet while he worked at Los Alamos. He tested one and found out that he only had to be wthin two-and-a-half digits of the correct number for it to open, and learned how the internals of the lock worked so he could try every permutation without having to restart each time. I think he said it would take a few hours for a brute force attack to try every combination. If he was in somebody’s office while their cabinet was open, he’d try to see what the dial was set to, assuming that was the last number. I think that brought the time down to about 40 minutes.

You appear to have a GSA 5 drawer safe with an X-07 safe lock. Only the KABA X-07, -08, and -09 are approved for use by the GSA for this type of safe. There is always a hardened steel plate. The actual locking mechanism is surprisingly small and can only be opened with the combination or by drilling at a very specific point to a very specific depth. This does not necessarily destroy the utility of the safe. The shop I used to work for did a lot of gov’t work opening, repairing and refurbishing this type of safe. We would drill it, remove the old lock, plug and weld the hole we drilled, then install a new lock and paint it. Good as new. Better than new in fact because the plug we used was actually stronger than the material we drilled out.

So no, there is no magic box to open a safe, unless the case we keep the drill in counts.

Perhaps in the 70s-80s, but today this would take a very very long time, probably never with the newer locks. The KABA locks will lockout for 3 minutes every 10 wrong combination attempts, and in a high-security setting are usually set with a dual combination (requiring 2 different codes entered within 10 seconds of each other).

It wouldn’t be the last number. Entering the combo enables the mechanism to retract the bolt, which is done mechanically by turning the dial counter-clockwise.

It’s a nice file cabinet/safe. My main concern was getting something fire rated to store documents, photos etc. I even have some backup cds I made of my digital photos in it.

Funny how a lifetime of seeing movies and tv can give false impressions. Cracking safes has always been a big part of crime and spy stories. I figured there was a grain of truth in it.

thanks for the information DC. :wink:

That’s a different trope.

I immediately thought of Feynman as I read the OP. That part of the book was really interesting and funny.

I just skimmed throught that section of the book and Feynman fiddled with the locks from the inside of the open cabinets, and was able to figure out how to get all three numbers of the combinations that way. He says the last two numbers in the combination were the easiest to get, but the first number took longer. So he would figure out the last two numbers and then, when he was called to “crack” the combination, he just had to try every first number with those last two numbers until it opened.

There has been a contest between safe-makers and safe-crackers (who once were called “yeggs” if you do crossword puzzles) since the day safes were invented.

Why should it be surprising that a technique that used to work in the long ago no longer works - because it once worked! As soon as safe-makers find out that thieves have a way to get in, they change the operation of the safe to forestall this. Even back in 1930s movies you see yeggs using “soup” (nitroglycerin) to blow safes because that was the only way to get in.

Safes are very, very good these days. You would expect that if you spent the money to install a safe. If there were a cheap and easy way for a locksmith to get in, then there would be a cheap and easy way for any crook to get in. What, you think all locksmiths are honest?

I have a fire proof combination safe that I’ve cracked. For cheaper models you can feel when each plate comes into alignment. I don’t know about a Mosler though. It depends on the mechanism.

Feynman’s story takes place during the Manhattan project, which was in the 1940s. Even further back in time than you thought.

This reminds me of that horrible experience I had traveling with a few new safe crackers and a prominent creationist. I do not like green yeggs and Ham.

Never go to the Chinese place near the bank: Every time you order the egg drop soup, the whole damn place clears out.

Yeah, and the “moll” always had nice “gams” too.

Also, Exapno’s definition of ‘yegg’ is incomplete: With a few exceptions, every American President since JFK has been a yegg.

They’ve all been very safe crackers indeed.

Gat outta here, kid, or I won’t spare the rod.