Interview with Jgor: The North American Lock Picking Champion

Lock Sport Interview

Today I got to interview Jgor, a lock picker and computer hacker extraordinaire. He has been leading the Longhorn Lockpicking Club in Austin, Texas for 10 years and has competed in locksport competitions at the highest level. Keep reading to see what it takes to become one of the greatest lock pickers in America!

Q: Let’s start this interview off by telling us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living, and what got you into lock picking?

“I’m currently a Senior Network Security Analyst for the University of Texas at Austin on the Risk Management team, which means I spend much of my time thinking like a bad guy to see if I can break into systems on campus. While this is primarily web applications or network services, I also perform physical penetration tests of various departments and get to study both physical locking systems like locking manhole covers and electronic locks like proximity/contactless smart card systems and iris readers.

I wish I had thought to look into lock picking at a younger age, but honestly it never occurred to me until my sophomore year at UT. I was walking back from class one day and noticed a table recruiting for a new student club starting up called the Longhorn Lock picking Club. Hacking and secret spy stuff always fascinated me, so lock picking seemed like a natural fit. I went to the information session in the winter of 2006, got my first official Locksport International 8-piece beginner’s lock pick set, hopped on the forums at Lockpicking101 and spent the next few months sitting in my dorm room struggling to get the hang of this new hobby. My first attempt was the cheapest dollar store lock I could find (a Tri-Circle Chinese padlock, the exact model discussed here by bosnianbill: Tri-Circle Padlock Ridiculed and Humiliated). The lock was so poorly made that not only did I fail to pick it, but the key pins actually started falling out through the keyway as I tried. I almost gave up after that, but luckily the next lock I tried was the ubiquitous Master no.3 padlock, and then eventually everything just.. clicked.”

Q: What are some of the accomplishments and contributions you have made to the Locksport Community that put your name in the lime light?

“I’ve been an officer of the Longhorn Lockpicking Club since the spring of 2007, but it was at DEF CON 17 in ’09 when I started to achieve some level of notoriety in the community. TOOOL ran the speed-lock picking championship with the winner being flown all-expenses paid to compete at LockCon in the Netherlands. Much to my surprise I managed to win, going head to head with previous champion Schuyler Towne in the final round to conquer a brutally custom-pinned Abus padlock. Most excitingly I think this became a battle between two distinct picking styles: Schuyler swore by his Bogota rakes whereas I had a zealot-like devotion to single-pin picking with simple hooks. I think people were excited to see pure single-pin picking succeed in a speed competition traditionally dominated by raking. I was eliminated early on at the LockCon championship later that year but I committed to going back from then on. I’ve since been to five LockCons, taken the U.S. title again at LockCon Seattle 2015, and still aspire to one day win the title at the original LockCon in Sneek, The Netherlands.

As an officer and later lead organizer of the Longhorn Lockpicking Club I’ve had countless opportunities to introduce lock picking to beginners. I’ve been staff at the DEF CON lock pick village for many years and run lock pick villages at numerous security conferences across Texas. I’ve taught lock picking everywhere from Facebook’s offices to Explore UT, where busloads of primary school kids flood to campus to participate in activities and get excited about college. I’ve introduced a physical security component to a course I’m involved in teaching at the university, CS378: Real-World Information Security. My favorite opportunity, though, has been meeting Brian Brushwood and being invited to host a series of lock picking subjects for his YouTube Scam School show:

Over the years I’ve transitioned Longhorn Lockpicking from a student organization to an independent Austin club, and as we approach our 10 year anniversary this year we’re still going strong. If you find yourself in the Austin area you’ll find us out on the Spider House patio every other Saturday evening, picking locks and drinking beer: Longhornlockpicking.com.

Q: Were there any people in the Locksport Community that you really looked up to or aspired to be as good as?

“I’ve had some fantastic people to look up to throughout my lock picking career. First and foremost Doug Farre, founder of Longhorn Lockpicking Club, was a mentor early on. He taught me to pick, convinced me to go to my first DEF CON hacker conference, and I’m forever grateful to him for altering the course of my life in such a positive way.

I’m also a huge outspoken fan of Schuyler Towne. The enthusiasm he has for locksport and locks in general is infectious, I could listen to him lecture on the subject all day. It is my hope that when I teach people about lock picking, that it comes across with a fragment of his charisma. If you haven’t seen it I encourage you to go watch his “History of Locksport: 1800-1900” talk. I’ve always considered it among my favorite talks from a hacker conference to date. I believe I saw it first at BSides Las Vegas, but there’s a recording from LayerOne 2011 here: History of Locksport 1800-1900.

Really most of my heroes are people I met at my first few DEF CON conferences (16/17, ’08/’09). Deviant Ollam, Babak Javadi, Jon King aka jkthecjer, Datagram, Scorche, Eric Michaud have all been doing this longer than I have and have accomplished some amazing things that inspire me. Deviant and Babak have had the dream job of running lockpick villages all over the world as part of the TOOOL US leadership. Jkthecjer’s research into attacking Medeco locks with his “medecoder” tool made me want to tackle these as my first foray into high security locks. Jk, Datagram, and Scorche are ushering in a new wave of physical security interest with their work in defeating tamper-evident technologies, which has now grown into a popular DEF CON village and competition of its own. Eric is one of the forefathers of modern hobbyist lock picking in the U.S. as well as the founder of multiple hackerspaces, and has turned his passion for physical security into a successful career. I admire the accomplishments of all these people and can only hope to achieve at their level.”

Q: What is your favorite brand of picks to use on pin tumblers, dimple locks, and disc detainer locks?

“I have this MacGyver-esque stance on lock picking, where I’d rather be good at picking locks with whatever tool is in front of me than great at picking with only one certain tool. For that reason I’ll usually try to force myself to use the same practice picks that I scatter out on the table for beginners to use. These days that’s usually simple Southern Specialties or HPC short hook picks. I’m not even sure I’ve ever owned proper dimple picks, I’ll just use the hook pick sideways for dimple locks as well. I don’t have much practical experience with picking disc-detainer locks, only tools I’ve borrowed from others at conferences to play with such as Jaakko of Finland’s custom Abus disc detainer pick.”

Q: Do you prefer custom lock picks or manufacturer made lock picks?

“As mentioned a bit in the previous question I try to maintain familiarity with common manufacturer-made picks. I do have a decent collection of custom picks from folks like LockNewbie21, Legion303 and raimundo, as well as a few made for me by local folks, but I generally reserve those for competitions where every second matters. I’ve never made my own tools, it’s just not a path I ever started down. I’ve met some people who are masters of the art and I have no shame deferring to them in that department.

For day to day picking, and to be honest I really only practice during our bi-weekly Longhorn Locking meetings these days, I just use the spare manufacturer tools that we provide for everyone else. One set I’ve been really impressed with lately though is TOOOL’s “Tremendous Twelve” set, crafted with an intimidating level of research into metallurgy and stress points by TOOOL SF’s own Christina aka morsel. I’m going to call that one a hybrid between the two, an artisan-designed manufactured pickset. The set of 6 turning tools of varying thicknesses it includes (half center-of-plug, half edge-of-plug tools) is something I hope will be adopted by other picksets in the future.”

Q: What lock pick set do you consider is the best set for beginners to start out with?

“Back in the day when I put together my first online purchase, I knew that my picking style was suited to a very small number of picks compared to the average beginner set. I ended up going with a short hook and a half diamond from Southern Specialties in their awesome laminated ripple-core handle, and a double-ended turning tool. I liked them so much that when I took over Longhorn Lockpicking I just put in bulk orders of that same set (adding in a simple snake rake for completion) for all our beginners. I’m of the opinion that you should build up a solid foundation using a small set of standard pick shapes first, then add tools as you find a need for them rather than starting with a large set. I would recommend that beginners just get a short hook, any short hook, and master it before looking for more picks.”

Q: Are there any particular locks you are working on at the moment, and any locks that you just absolutely cannot defeat?

“My last “white whale,” as I like to call them, was the Kwikset Smart Key. I’d had one for years but never got anywhere picking it. At a recent Longhorn Lockpicking meeting I was finally able to get one open multiple times in a row (Kwikset Smart Key Picked). I don’t really have any others that I’m currently working on regularly, though I’d like to get better at BEST SFIC cores eventually. I’d say over the years my focus has shifted from tackling technically difficult locks myself to teaching others.”

Q: How have Locksport and the Locksport Community changed over the years in your opinion?

“Locksport has been making leaps and bounds in terms of widespread acceptance over the last decade. Lock picking is in more and more video games, articles are coming out in mainstream magazines (Esquire – 8 Skills You Can Learn in 60 Seconds – Pick a Lock), and it’s getting less and less stressful to carry lock picks through metal detectors and the TSA. It reminds me of Schuyler’s research into the 19th century’s permissive attitudes towards lock picking where the local newspaper would excitedly discuss the latest conquests of lock pickers against new lock designs. Heck, even Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune is talking about hobbyist lock picking: Schuyler on Wheel of Fortune.”

Q: Where would you like to see Locksport and yourself 10 years from now?

“I’d always like to see more competitions. I hope we see another Black Badge lock picking event at DEF CON, that’s long overdue. Forum members and YouTube folks have started competitions where they’ll mail you locks and you see how quickly you can open it, then mail it to the next person. I think it would be great to see more of that between organized locksport chapters, be they TOOOL or L.I or otherwise. One of my most impactful experiences at my first LockCon in the Netherlands was attending a TOOOL NL meeting and seeing their year-long lock competition. They had a tackle box filled with individually labeled locks, and at each meeting you’d have an opportunity to tackle a lock and record your open time, then at the end of the year the best times would win an award. I think competition is the heart of a hobbyist lock picking club and I’d like to see that further developed, especially here at Longhorn Lockpicking.”

Q: Finally, what is your favorite beer to drink while picking locks?

“Oh man, this could probably be an interview in itself. I’m blessed to live in Austin, a market with some great craft brews. While I tend to explore the seasonal rotations at our regular Spider House venue for Longhorn Lockpicking, my mainstays are hoppy IPAs and pale ales. My local favorites are Buckethead, Stash, and 512 IPA. As I type up these answers I’m enjoying a pint of Man o’ War IPA from local brewpub Pinthouse Pizza, where I’ll be filling up a growler of the same before I hop on my bike to head home.”

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