Dennis McEntire spent most of his adult life working in the computer industry.
One day, he decided to give that all up and become a self-employed locksmith.
McEntire remembers that day well—it was the day he found out just how easy it would be for someone to walk right up to his front door and open it, without leaving a trace.
The ‘Bump Key’
McEntire says, one key can open just about any lock in America by possessing one simple tool. That tool is called a “bump key”—and it’s as easy as walking down to the local hardware store, buying an ordinary house key, and filing it down.
Do that, and it’s like owning a master key to the universe, he says.
“It’s surprising, how easy it is to make a bump key,” said McEntire.
McEntire first found out about bump keys in 2006, when he came across an online article originating from the Netherlands about a rash of burglaries in Germany, in which the burglars had used a tool called a bump key.
McEntire was intrigued and tried to look up more information on bump keys—and was surprised at how little information there was out there, at least on English websites. However, after the article from the Netherlands came out, he did begin to notice different articles on the subject popping up around the Internet. Eventually, he came across an article in English on a social media site, as well as a few simple instructions on how to make one.
McEntire was appalled at how easy the instructions made it look.
“I thought, this is too easy,” he said. “It can’t be true.”
So, he decided to put the instructions to the test.
“I went to [Orchard Supply Hardware], bought a deadbolt, then took a key and tried filing it down,” he said.
The experiment worked—he was able to unlock the deadbolt with his newly-fashioned bump key.
McEntire decided to try his bump key on some other locks since, allegedly, the average bump key can open almost any lock.
“I took it to my front door, the patio door, and my metal, security screen door,” he said. “They all use different keys, and this bump key ended up opening all those doors.”
McEntire was blown away.
“I realized the key in my hand could probably open most doors in my neighborhood, and maybe even in America,” he said. “After making this bump key and seeing how easy it was to do, I had a huge realization that this is a real problem.”
A New Business is Born
McEntire’s first thought was, how could he protect his family? He decided to go shopping and try to find new, higher-security locks for his home; ones that were immune to bump keys.
However, it wasn’t going to be that easy.
McEntire said he visited a total of 14 locksmiths, all over the Bay Area, over the next two weekends. Unfortunately, his search didn’t yield much.
“Some people said, ‘what’s the bump key?’” he recalled. “They didn’t even know what it was.”
McEntire realized that what he needed was a high-security lock that included an extra locking mechanism that most ordinary locks found at hardware stores don’t carry. Trouble was, stores didn’t carry them—they had to be purchased from a locksmith, but there weren’t many that carried them in the Bay Area, either.
So, McEntire hit the Internet. He ordered a few locks he found on eBay, but they ended up being more than trouble than they were worth.
“Most of them were a joke. I ended up with a lot of locks that used all different keys that couldn’t be duplicated and didn’t work well together,” he explained. “All I wanted was good locks on all my doors with one key. And, at a reasonable price. Hiring a private locksmith to install all new locks in your house can be expensive.”
That’s when McEntire decided to give up his career in computers, and open his own locksmith business. He said, he realized that bump keys were more well-known in Europe at the time, but figured it wouldn’t be long before the phenomenon hit America.
“And when that happened, I wanted to be able to offer people locks that [could resist bump keys],” he said.
So, Bay Area Locks was born.
In the beginning, he worked out of his home in San Bruno. In January of this year, he and his wife Joann and their dog bought a home in Redwood City—which is now home to Bay Area Locks as well.
One of McEntire’s first business ventures was to host a booth at a home and garden show. He brought with him a small section of a door with several of the most common deadbolt brands available in most hardware stores installed on it. He then proceeded to demonstrate to attendees at the show how a bump key was made, and how easy it was to use it to open every deadbolt on the door.
McEntire said, at first, he was afraid people would be angry at him, as though he were demonstrating to all the would-be burglars of the world how easy it is to break into someone’s home. However, the reaction he got was quite the contrary.
“People would say, ‘hey, that’s the lock I have on my door,’ and then I showed them how easily the bump key could open it, and people were astounded,” he said. “It was interesting to watch people’s reactions to it. People would say, ‘thanks for telling us about this—the bad guys already know about it, so we should know about it too.’”
Making His Mark on the Lock Industry
Business is going well for McEntire and Bay Area Locks.
As McEntire predicted, word of the bump key has been spreading around America over the past few years. McEntire says, he has been working hard to do his part in helping to educate people about the problem of the bump key and how they can protect themselves.
McEntire has been featured on several Bay Area news programs, demonstrating how easily the bump key can open the average lock and telling people about high-security locks they can buy that resist bump keys. He has been on KRON Channel 4 News, ABC Channel 7 News’ 7 On Your Side with Michael Finney, and CBS Channel 5 News.
He has also been helping to educate police departments about the issue. He said, though police departments were already aware that bump keys existed, they welcomed the chance to visit McEntire at his home office, see demonstrations of bump keys being used and take back samples with them.
McEntire said, the frustrating thing for the police is, how bump keys leave no trace—whether someone uses a key to open a door or a bump key, the lock is left looking exactly the same.
“So, this helps them to be able to explain burglaries where no evidence of breaking locks is present,” McEntire said, explaining that it is incredibly difficult to detect the use of a bump key in a lock without taking the entire lock apart and using a microscope or magnifying glass to try and pinpoint tiny scratch marks that can sometimes be left behind by “bumping”—but even that is a long shot, he said.
McEntire said, with all the attention he has been getting on the subject of bump keys and how easy they are to use, he was afraid some lock manufacturers would come after him and order him to stop demonstrating how bump keys could open their locks, particularly on television news programs.
Luckily, that never happened. But, after a while, he decided he would go to them.
McEntire says the two most popular brands of locks, used by the majority of Americans, are Kwikset and Schlage. So, he decided to contact those two companies and broach the subject with them, and suggest perhaps they try and design their own version of a high-security lock that is resistant to bump keys.
“They didn’t seem to think it was a problem they needed to worry about,” said McEntire. After all, he said, those two companies each sell millions of dollars worth of locks every year.
However, McEntire considers it a small victory that, just a couple of years after he first contacted them, one of the companies did release a new type of higher-security lock that it is specifically advertising as being resistant to bump keys.
“So, I think they really did take it seriously, and did research of their own and addressed the problem,” he said.
A Booming Business for Redwood City
These days, McEntire still works out of his Redwood City home. He says he does the majority of his business online, selling high-security locks to private citizens, commercial companies and even government agencies, from all over the world.
He says, he and his wife love living in their new home near downtown Redwood City.
“It’s wonderful. We love to walk our dog downtown, especially down Broadway,” he said.
McEntire says, more than anything, he hopes the attention he and his company Bay Area Locks are bringing to the issue of bump keys and the need for higher-security locks helps protect people.
“This has definitely changed my life,” he said. “My primary goal is just informing people about this problem and getting it to where people know about it, so they can do something about it if they want to.”
Contact Bay Area Locks at 650-539-4663 or visit www.bayarealocks.com.