Kids can break into gun safes with paper clips, straws: experts

By Jim Finkle, Reuters

LAS VEGAS–Children can easily open some portable safes for hand guns with a light bounce or by inserting paper clips and straws, security experts at a hacking convention in Las Vegas warned on Friday. “This is really scary. The manufacturer never contemplated this,” said Marc Tobias, one of three lock security expert who demonstrated how to open the safes.

“It is not just one type of safe. It’s a lot of them,” he said during the Friday evening presentation at the 20th annual Def Con hacking conference.

Tobias began studying the security of gun safes after he was called in to help investigate the death of Ryan Owens, a 3-year-old in Vancouver, Washington, who was shot in 2010 with the service weapon of his father, an undercover police officer. That weapon had been locked up in an inexpensive safe issued to the officer by the country sheriff’s office. Tobias believes that Ryan or one of his siblings opened the safe and removed the weapon, due to a serious design flaw. Following that investigation Tobias decided to look into the safety of a wide range of inexpensive gun safes. The lock experts showed videos in which they opened gun safes costing between US$75 to US$200, all of which are made in China and sold through retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. They were able to open one safe after they gently bounced it on a table by pushing up one corner with a finger. They opened up other safes after sticking paper clips, wires and straws into holes on top of them. An audience of more than a thousand hackers and security experts applauded the research after viewing videos of the research. In one of them the 3-year-old son of lock expert Tobias Bluzmanis opened four safes. Hackers and security experts present research on security vulnerabilities at the annual gathering, often in an effort to warn the public about security risks and pressure manufacturers to address the problems.

Tobias and his colleagues, who work for the Security Laboratories of Investigative Law Offices, said they decided to disclose the vulnerabilities in gun safes so that parents would know that their children were at risk.

Altogether, they were able to break into 10 types safes, seven of which were made by privately held Stack-On of Wauconda, Illinois. Officials with Stack-On did not respond to a request for comment. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie said that the retailer had discussed the issue with Stack-On. “According to Stack-On, the product mentioned is tested by a third-party independent lab and those results are submitted to the California Department of Justice for certification as meeting their safety standards for this category of products,” she said. Officials with Dick’s Sporting Goods could not be reached for comment. The lock security experts said that those California standards are not adequate for protecting safes from covert methods of entry such as the ones they had demonstrated at the hacking conference.

They said that consumers could protect against the vulnerabilities by avoiding portable gun safes altogether. “They are boxes with locks on them. They are not safes,” said Tobias. He advised consumers to buy larger guns safes and to seek out advice from professional locksmiths as to which models are the most secure.