• United States



The Pen Is Mightier than the Lockpick

Nov 01, 20043 mins
Physical Security

The first time Benjamin Running picked his $90 Kryptonite bike lock with a 10 cent ballpoint pen, it took a few minutes. But after 10 tries, he says, “I had it down to five seconds.” Running, a Brooklyn-based graphic designer, reported this astonishing discovery on his blog, “Bike owners beware, that same bright yellow lock that once said, Don’t screw with me! now screams, Steal me!” Running wrote. He also linked to a video demonstrating how he penned his own lock. It was this video that turned Running into an internationally sought after “hacker.” In a matter of hours, Running went from anonymous New Yorker who plays “guitars and oddball instruments” in a band called Johnny Pancakes and the Young Republicans, to Page 1 of the September 17, 2004 New York Times Metro section.

Debriefing: How are the 15 minutes going?

Benjamin Running: I was buying shoes the other day and I handed the lady my credit card and she says, “Oh, you’re the bike lock guy.” It feels like about 20 minutes now. I’m ready for it to be over.

After you posted the video, The Associated Press called within hours and your site got 700,000 hits. Were you at all unnerved by the sudden and massive media attention?

It didn’t unnerve me, but I could see how some people get freaked out. I mean, how did the Daily News get my cell phone number? I was heading to a photo shoot for one paper when NPR called. On the bus ride home from that, Tokyo Broadcasting called. I guess I’m the unwitting poster boy. I was a loudmouth about it and, well, this isn’t Idaho. Word spread.

You killed off the major product of a multimillion-dollar security company. Plus, bike shops are stuck with useless inventory. In other words, you’ve wrecked an industry. Congratulations.

Part of me doesn’t want to be responsible for this. But Kryptonite is owned by Ingersoll-Rand. They’ll be fine. And there’s a bigger part of me that feels like I’d be doing a disservice by not telling as many people as I could. You see, historically, cyclists feel scorned in terms of their position in the world.

Hate to break this to you, but you’re scorned because of the goofy outfits.

The cyclist story is one of striving for recognition and respect. We share the streets too. So there’s a little bit of vindication.

On your blog you write, “I post this information as a warning…not as a how-to. Stealing is bad. Stealing bikes is worse.” Yet, surely you’ve enabled some people to steal bikes?

I’ve considered it, but the story spread so quickly, I think it’s better to have the information out there. You can’t keep it a secret, so you might as well arm bicyclists with the information that they are vulnerable. You walk down a street in New York City and you’ll see 25 bikes on a block, and 90 percent of them have these kinds of locks on them. Now they can replace the locks.

So the lock company sells a bad product and then gets paid to replace it? Neat trick.

Some bike shops will take 10 bucks and your old lock and give you a heavy duty padlock. Then they’ll charge back Kryptonite. Kryptonite has also offered free replacements. Some cyclists aren’t happy with what they’re getting because they’re disc locks or padlocks&mdash:a step below the old locks. Then again, you can’t open them with a pen.