July 29, 2012
Researchers Demonstrate How Young Children Can Easily Open Gun Safes
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
A team of security experts has demonstrated that certain gun safes can be cracked open by a preschooler, and that the locks on some of these products can be bypassed using common household items such as a paper clip or an ordinary drinking straw, various media outlets reported over the weekend.
Moved to action by the tragic shooting death of a three-year-old Washington child, which they believe was due in part to the "security-defective design" of one particular brand of gun safe, physical security expert and attorney Marc Tobias and colleagues set to work evaluating the safety of 11 different gun safes. Each of those safes was produced by three top manufacturers: Bulldog, GunVault, and Stack-On -- which reportedly housed the gun involved in the fatal 2010 shooting of Eddie Ryan.
"Small gun safes have become popular as an alternative security system for protecting both weapons and valuables, even though Federal law requires some sort of lock to be provided with every gun sale," Tobias wrote in a Friday article published by Forbes.com. "You should know how unsafe these gun safes are."
"In the interest of full disclosure, our Security Lab was asked for assistance to determine if there was a design problem with a specific model of safe that was involved in the shooting," he added. "We agreed to provide expert analysis and testimony as a public service to the victim´s family; the parents were a police officer and student nurse. They have allowed us to tell the story and release videos of different containers and how easily they can be compromised because they do not want anyone else to suffer the same nightmare."
Stack-On claims that their products come equipped with a "state-of-the-art electronic lock," Tobias said. However, along with his article, he posted a video which shows a three-year-old child opening four different gun safes, three of which were produced by the same company which made the $36 product used by the sheriff's department where Ryan's father, Ed Owens, worked as a deputy at the time.
"An unknown number of the original safes are still in use by the Department," Tobias wrote. "Since being shown a simple method to open their safes by elevating them a few inches off a hard surface (like a shelf in a closet) then dropping them, the Sheriff´s Office has recently modified its policy and now require that the safes must be mounted, but they have not removed them from service."
The cause of these issues in many of the safes, according to Tobias, was "a solenoid that retracts or releases a magnetic pin. When extended it blocks the lateral movement of the internal bolts that keep the door locked“¦ We first figured out what was wrong with the suspect safe by using a high-speed video camera mounted inside the container as the mechanism was bounced. What we discovered caused us enough concern to expand our inquiry to virtually all of the Stack-On models of similar safes, and those produced by other manufacturers as well."
"What we found in all of these designs was typical: all of the safes that are detailed in our report can be opened with a variety of simple implements and techniques. These included bouncing and rapping, paperclips, wires, drinking straws, screwdrivers, and brass strips that can be purchased from a hardware store," he added.
Tobias and his colleagues also demonstrated their findings at the annual Def Con convention for hackers in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Friday, according to AFP reporter Glenn Chapman. He told Chapman that they eventually evaluated approximately six other Stack-On safe models.
They found that those safes could be opened with wires, straws, and other basic means, and that even fingerprint scan devices on higher-end products could be bypassed by using paperclips in a hole located beneath it that grants access to the locking mechanism. Toby Bluzmanis, also of Security Labs, had his young sons attempt to open the devices, saying that they viewed the challenge of unlocking gun safes as a "game."
Furthermore, Wired's Kim Zetter reported Friday that, "In 2004, Stack-On had recalled 1,320 of the model of safes that was purchased by the sheriff´s department, because the safes could be opened by simply jiggling the doorknob, though the sheriff´s department maintains that the recalled safes were not from the same lot number as the ones the law enforcement agency bought."
Tobias notified Stack-On about their findings three months ago, Zetter said. When asked if the company planned to recall any of their products, they told her that their safes "are certified to meet the California Department of Justice (DOJ) standards“¦ This certification involves testing, by an independent laboratory approved by California DOJ, for compliance with their adopted standards. In addition, our Portable Cases comply with TSA airline firearm guidelines. We are proud of this designation and the protection we provide."