May 2010 Locksport Person of the Month: Datagram
Datagram was nominated and selected for the Locksport Person of the Month distinction for his outstanding contributions to the locksport community. Datagram is well known for his work on two separate endeavors: lock forensic analysis (www.lockpickingforensics.com), and Lockwiki (www.LockWiki.com), a repository of lock related information. I sat down with Datagram in his Los Angeles villa over a New York Strip to discuss his passage into the locksport community.
Q: First off, why do you call yourself Datagram?
A: I've been part of the computer security/hacker community for longer than I've been working with locks, and many of the lock-related events I do are at computer/security events. Using a handle is pretty traditional for US security groups and events so it has become what people know me as. There's a running joke between friends that no one would know who I was if I started putting my real name on my presentations and research papers. I don't remember why I chose 'datagram' in particular, though.
Q: So I understand that you your work in forensics was your debut into the locksport community. Is it okay if I go ahead and describe you as an amateur lock forensics guy gone pro? Can you explain how this progression occurred?
A: That's not true, exactly. I've been working with locks for about a decade but it wasn't until a few years ago that I became interested in the forensics aspect. Before doing forensics I did training and presentations on locksport at various security conferences and events. Eventually I started looking for resources on forensic locksmithing but had a hard time finding much. I decided to do my own research and make the website. Since then I've gotten an increasing amount of work teaching and performing forensic locksmithing both at home and overseas. In the sense that I am an amateur turned pro, you're correct.
Q: Have you developed any proprietary methods of forensics analysis or published any discoveries?
A: I don't believe in having secrets in forensic locksmithing. A big part of the job is knowing what to expect and what is possible. Free exchange of information between forensic locksmiths helps to promote awareness of different attacks and the evidence they leave behind. To that end, I have a few articles and sections on the site that detail uncommon attacks or rare types of evidence. The next few articles for the website will also have similar information that has, to my knowledge, never been published before.
Q: What is the coolest for-hire forensics job have you done?
A: Well, forensic locksmithing is not like the CSI show on TV, but there have been many interesting cases. The most fun, for me, comes from the investigations where I have to try a variety of attacks against a duplicate lock to see if they produce the same tool marks/signature as what was found on the lock in evidence. The best example of this was testing different chemical (acid) attacks against brass-based padlock bodies. Teaching has also been rather cool, especially when you get to teach government/law enforcement. The best part is getting to see what equipment they use and hearing what they think of locks and physical security in general.
Q: What are the plans for the future, etc, etc…?
A: I'm working on a few new articles for the website. They detail attacks and forensic techniques for some popular and upcoming American brand locks. I expect the articles to be useful to forensic investigators because of the overwhelming popularity of these locks. As for the website, I'd like to expand into other lock types, particularly lever and disc-detainer locks. They are uncommon in the United States but are an interesting lock mechanism with unique forensic evidence, picking tools, and attack methods. Right now I just need to build up a budget to purchase some new lever locks and picking tools. They are not too expensive by themselves, but the shipping costs from the UK are killer!
Q: For those that don't know, what is LockWiki?
A: Lockwiki is a collaborative website, like Wikipedia, that focuses on locks, safes, locksport, and physical security. Anyone can contribute information and resources to the site, and the content is reviewed and edited by many people to make sure that all the information is accurate and non-biased.
Q: I know I am not alone when I say that LockWiki is a fantastic source for lock and physical security related information. How “complete” is the repository?
A: As far as the end-goal, it is very incomplete. I'd say that what you see on Lockwiki today would be less than 1% of the information available a few years from now. In light of that, there are certain pages that are very thorough, containing information, images, media, and references for further information. Lately, I have been working on lock-specific pages because they are the easiest to do and provide a good amount of information. Once they are done, they require little upkeep - which is great cause I don’t have to worry about the older articles and focus on getting new/improved articles on other parts of the site.
Q: What are your long-term goals and strategies to increase content on the site?
A: Right now I have been focusing on going through my lock collection and doing very detailed articles for each lock I own. Many that I've done have turned into really thorough pages that rank higher on Google than most of the official pages for those locks! In the long term I hope to get more editors contributing the site by editing articles, uploading images, or doing more administrative work like writing help pages and creating templates for other editors to use. I'm probably the worst salesman you could find, so I rarely try to sell people on the idea of editing or contributing. Those that have contributed have done much to improve the site and motivate me to keep going with my own updates.
Q: I understand that you are responsible for 99% of all contributions to the site. Why do you think people are so reluctant to contribute?
A: That's actually true, but I would like to truly thank the 1% that have gone out of their way to contribute to the site. Finding people to continually contribute is difficult but understandable. Many people just don't have the time, which I think is the biggest factor. Some don't have the technical knowledge to write in-depth articles, and others don't have the writing skills. Many people get upset when they write a long article and someone else (usually me) goes in and edits it to be more readable or better organized. But that's the point of the site. That's why everyone can contribute and improve everything on the site. You have to develop a thick skin to have your writing publicly accessible by anyone in the world. People are going to pick on every possible thing about your writing, but in the end the site benefits from all those opinions.
- 05/05/2010 - Doug