Friday, November 4, 2011

Where should I place my safe to provide the most resistance to forced entry?

I answered this question on a forum recently and thought I'd repost it here, so that others might benefit.

"A question for the expert, I'm about to move around my safe in the garage. Where is the best place to put it? I understand that big safes (mine is a Ft Knox) are actually more vulnerable at the sides. Would putting it in the corner at a 45 degree angle be the best option?"

Yes, unless your safe is a UL TL-rated unit that is also designated "X6", the door has the most resistance to drilling, burning, grinding and other methods of forced entry by common hand and power tools used in burglary attempts. TL-15 and above also feature manipulation resistant mechanical combination locks or high quality electro-mechanical locks. Often these will also include a redundant feature for the utmost in reliability.

An X6 designation simply means that all six sides have the same rating and resistance to forced entry by the methods and tools described in the UL standards for testing.

For example:
TL-15 = Resistant to tool attacks for a net working time of fifteen minutes.

TRTL-30 = Resistant to tool and torch attacks for a net working time of thirty minutes.

TXTL-60 = Resistance to tool, torch and explosives attacks for a net working time of sixty minutes.

There is no UL rating (so far) for resistance to ballistic attacks, like you may have seen in the movie: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot starring Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood as a heavily-armed safecracker.

OTOH: safes can be built to higher standards but only test for a specific and lower level of UL certification. The Modul-X modular safes made in the USA by City Safe in New Jersey are tested for TL-30, but as you can see from the following YouTube video, they can withstand much more that what the UL tests for TL-30 throw at it.

City Safe MODUL-X safe panels are attacked by ballistic and explosives specialists from the Russian military

With regard to the best position to place it in, with a big heavy, well-made safe, the only sides you have to worry about is the top, left side, right side and the front/door. If I were placing your safe, I'd put one side against a solid wall, bolt the safe down and then move something else that is very heavy (like a metal cabinet, refrigerator or freezer) next to the other side. This will make it more difficult unless they move something, but it may also force them to waste time and tools attacking the front. By the time they learn that is easier to attack the sides, they will have to move whatever is in the way to start again. Since a large number of modern safes have the bolt of the lock facing down, an attack from the top is less likely to produce the desired result for the would-be burglars.

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© 2011 by Ken Doyle
Licensed Professional Safecracker
ADVANCED Safe & Vault
San Francisco Bay Area
+1 (415) 519-3401

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Green Safecracker?

It seems like long-term priorities get all screwed-up when we have to suffer through disasters or a depressed economy. Yes, I did use the "D" word. Politicians and economists alike have been very careful to avoid using the "D" word in front of a microphone or TV camera, despite the fact that many know that's exactly what we're in and have been saying so, privately, since the end of 2008. Hey, I understand, it's scary stuff. In addition to it being too scary to talk about, it also seems to be too scary to define. I'm sure nobody really wants their own personal definition of economic depression to be adopted by the talking heads in the media, i.e. "Doyle's Definition": "A recession is when YOUR NEIGHBORS AND FRIENDS lose their jobs or businesses. A depression is when YOU lose your job or your business goes belly-up." Just kidding, I didn't really say that. That's been around since the last great depression.

OK, I really am gonna get to get the point. I only bring that scary stuff up as an example of the kind of stuff that distracts us from seeing the big picture. Successful businesses, economies, governments and civilizations are those who can see the big picture and plan for the long haul, not a year down the line, not five years, but fifty or a hundred years. What's the point of having a healthy financial quarter or a great portfolio if your kids won't be able to earn a living or even be able to breath?

When I think about the future, I can't help but think about two films, made in the 70s with decidedly anti-corporate themes and the bleakest of outlooks. Bleak, that is, if you're just a regular person and not a corporate-person or a new globalist. I believe these films are an accurate prediction of things to come in the next 10-20 years if we don't take our collective heads out the sand. Rather than give my own opinion and interpretation of these two films, go to the IMDb links, read the synopsis, reviews and commentary and let's see if you don't agree?


OK, are you getting a hint about the depressing point I'm trying to make? Every couple of days, at my local supermarket checkout stand, I used to have to go through the mildly agonizing decision of whether I wanted "paper or plastic?". I'd think about it and talk about it with the woman behind the register and other customers who were waiting to check out. What's the point? If I say "paper", then I am condemning a tree, hurting the environment, but providing a living to loggers and their families, but killing spotted owls. If I say "plastic" am I not doing pretty much the same thing in only a slightly different way?

One of the greenest things that I do is to turn an old safe into something useful again. If I can also restore it to it's original function and appearance, the owner might tell me that it was money well-spent because, in addition to having a good, well-made safe to use, he now has an antique with considerably more collectable value than any modern safe could ever have and he receives admiring comments about it from everybody who walks into his office and sees it. "Wow" is usually the first word out of their mouths.

Another scenario might be that I go out to open a safe that has been sitting, neglected, for 30 years, but the new owner of the house or business wants to see if there is anything in it and also if it can be made useful again. Sometimes, if the safe looks pretty good, all I have to do is open it and do a little long overdue maintenance to return it to useful service. Sometimes, after the safe has been opened, repaired and serviced, the owner may want to paint it and decides to do that himself. Others may want to go the whole nine yards and asks about the ost to restore the safe to its original glory. Either way, what's happening is that we are recycling a useless hunk of junk that is in the way and turning into something of use, value, a sometimes a thing of beauty that reminds us, not of the age of cheap, throw-away, Wal-Mart-style consumerism, but of the age where people made things of beauty and craftsmanship in America. I think that is being green with a capital G!

Thanks for reading my latest rant. If you'd like to comment, please click the comments link or you can send me a private e-mail by clicking the following link:

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© 2011 by Ken Doyle
Licensed Professional Safecracker
ADVANCED Safe & Vault
San Francisco Bay Area
+1 (415) 519-3401

Send me an email 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The fickle finger of fate strikes again

Yesterday morning I spent a couple hours in the south bay area opening a home safe after a successful burglary of the client's residence. The burglars didn't get in to the safe, but they did attempt to carry the safe out of the house. Weighing less than two hundred pounds, I was surprised that the intrepid thieves hadn't succeeded, as the safe was not bolted down.

After opening it, I was further surprised to find that this cheap imported safe, that probably retailed for less than $500, contained jewelry and other contents valued at over $150,000. Even this lightweight box had survived intact and done it's job. Too bad it hadn't done the whole job that it was intended to do.

The history of this safe is interesting and also typical. The users were having trouble opening it for a long time. It had a four-number combination lock as well as a secondary key-operated lock. It was located in a cramped, dark portion of an attic crawl space, a rather inconvenient, but hidden location. Unfortunately, inconvenience and the difficulty that the users had been experiencing operating the safe combined to make the users somewhat apathetic about using the safe (to the point that they accidently discarded the card containing the working combination numbers) and stopped locking the combination lock and relied solely on the key. They also stopped using the safe as often. So... they took to stashing some of the more often-used pieces of jewelry in a drawer in the bedroom. These items were valued at a little more than $100K and were easily found and taken by the thieves that had given up on the safe. In fact, the combination was actually scrambled and the combination lock was secured by the actions of the burglars.

When I asked the client why she had not purchased a bigger and better safe, one that was more appropriate to the value of what she was trying to protect, she said that "the bigger, better, higher-quality safes were too expensive." I asked: "Was more expensive than replacing or doing without the jewelry that disappeared from her bedroom drawer?"

Although my client was pleased with my work and the price for opening and returning her safe to useful service, she was a little annoyed at having her security shortcomings pointed out. I told her that, as a security professional, it was my job to do just that, embarrassing as it may be to her. Often, the perceived cost of protecting something, before the fact, seems much less in the aftermath of a loss.

$10K spent for a larger, quality, burglary-rated safe that might have been kept in a more convenient location, i.e. actually used every day, and that was roomy enough to store ALL of her precious valuables, would not have fallen out of use and certainly couldn't have been carried off by a group of intrepid, well-equipped thieves, much less opened by them on site. $10K spent back then would have prevented the loss, as well as her embarrassment and annoyance at my concerned questions. It surprised me that her response was to be further annoyed at my suggestion that she still had assets to protect. Would she be upgrading her safe or continuing with her current plan, despite her recent loss?

The most ironic part of this story is that she wasn't insured for the loss, not that the insurance company would have paid off if she was covered. In cases of high value assets, insurance underwriters can and do stipulate appropriate levels of protection as a requirement of issuing the policy. My client's inexpensive home safe would not have passed muster.

The depressing part of my job is that I meet folks who have been traumatized by a loss that, with the wealth and resources they obviously have, could have been prevented. They have been victimized and even though I am helping them cope with this tragedy, I am a reminder of what could have been done and wasn't. The most painful lesson is the one learned the hard way.

© 2011 by Ken Doyle - The Safecracker
Telephone: 1 (415) 519-3401 
ADVANCED Safe & Vault
San Francisco Bay Area

Send me an email 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dishonesty within the ranks of security professionals?


"People who claim to be professionals in an industry that is all about security and protection of property shouldn't steal, right?"

Am I incredibly naive for making such a ridiculous statement and expecting the agreement of other security professionals?

As the years go by, I find that many in our industry have become desensitized to incidents of obvious dishonesty. No, I'm not talking about locksmiths and safemen who go bad and burglarize a customer or pilfer safe contents when nobody is looking. Thankfully, that is still a rare occurrence perpetrated by a few rogues who find themselves immediately ostracized by their colleagues and abandoned by clients if and when these indiscretions are discovered.

No, I'm referring to the subtle and common dishonesty. I'm talking about crimes like theft of intellectual property from web sites or stealing another's business name (and therefore his/her reputation) for use in scams. I'm talking about theft from association classes and trade show exhibitors or distributing, without permission, technical data created, collected and/or published by others. These are the little crimes that most in our industry don't pay much attention to, unless they become a victim. These crimes are motivated by personal gain, greed and laziness, just like robbery, burglary, credit card fraud or identity theft... so why would we consider tolerating them or sweeping the evidence of such misdeeds under the rug when they are discovered within our ranks?

Only three months ago, two of our industry colleagues discovered that photos from their own safe databases were turning up on CDs and DVDs that were being distributed (without their permission) by another well respected safe & vault professional that they also considered a trusted colleague and perhaps even a friend. This data was included on a class hand-out DVD that contained over 2 Gigabytes of safe photos, published articles, detailed safe and lock drawings and reams of material that was apparently downloaded from a popular, for-profit, online safe technicians forum. Of course, this isn't unusual or rare. Many of us are quite aware that safe & vault data is being traded, like baseball cards, at conventions, safe-opening parties and other industry gatherings. Maybe some of you already have some of this illicitly-obtained material in your own photo collections and computer databases? What's the big deal, right?

A few years ago, another friend told me that he had discovered that a guy, who he had shared his convention hotel room with, was attempting to copy safe data from his laptop computer while he wasn't looking. That same individual was later accused of stealing drill bits and other SAVTA property from classrooms. Pilferage from classes is, unfortunately, also nothing new. I've donated many tools and educational items to SAVTA over the years and many have disappeared into the pockets and tool kits of previous attendees and, therefore, are no longer available for use by current attendees. I'm not the only contributor who has experienced this phenomenon.

In 2005, a very expensive scope disappeared from my SAVTA exhibitor booth and, again, I am not the only exhibitor to experience these kinds of losses. At the last SAFETECH convention in San Diego, I returned to my room one evening to find my own notebook computer had grown legs and disappeared. Was it just a local burglar or an attendee? These are but a few of the incidents of which I am aware. Yes, SAVTA, exhibitors and attendees should be insured for these losses, but that's not the point, is it? Considering what we do for a living, this shouldn't be happening at all! Would I be scoffed at if I compared this larceny to a cop who takes a bribe to look the other way during a prostitution raid or a priest who molests an alter boy? Isn't this about abuse of trust? Where is the outrage within our community of so-called "professionals"?

In the safe & vault business, technical data is an extremely valuable commodity. One only needs to consider the cost of classes, association dues, drill point books, data CDs, videos and works such as the prized, hand-drawn illustrations made by Ed Willis to confirm that these things have enormous value to those of us who earn our living opening and servicing safes and vaults. Have we fostered a black market, that will eventually hurt our own bottom lines and futures?

I often wonder what goes through the mind of a technician or locksmith who would never think about stealing from a client, but who dutifully downloads and collects the photos and information shared by others on online forums, decides to burn a CD or DVD of it, then distributes it to friends and students or sells it. Maybe he doesn't think he will be caught. Maybe he doesn't care because making a few bucks or promoting himself by using the work of others is more important than personal loyalty, integrity, self esteem or his own good reputation.

As these kinds of abuses are becoming more common, i.e. no longer limited to those unethical purveyors, many of my friends and colleagues have decided not to post photos and details about openings in online technical forums in response to help requests. In fact, many have stopped replying to posts entirely, not only because of data theft, but because they are finding it much harder to make a living as more new techs enter their markets who, instead of creating their own database or legitimately purchasing the creative or technical work of others, have been equipped with tools, photos, data, drill point books and charts that have been supplied by the purveyors of the purloined. This pervasive "entitlement mentality", in addition to cheapening our industry, may have finally killed the goose. In my opinion, that naive goose should have gone belly-up, years ago!

© 2011 by Ken Doyle - The Safecracker
ADVANCED Safe & Vault
San Francisco Bay Area
Telephone: 1 (415) 519-3401

Send me an email