Could somebody steal from you without entering your house? Of course!

If you are like most Seattlites, you have a wireless access point transmitting and receiving your data for all the world to listen to.  If you are smart, you will encrypt this traffic using WPA2 using a complicated passphrase involving letters, numbers and symbols.  If you are really cagey, you won’t transmit information wirelessly at all but use ethernet cables.

The reason for this paranoia is that there are entire linux distributions written for the express purpose of decrypting your passphrases and gaining access to your wireless network, where various actions of ill intent can be taken such as hijacking your internet sessions with facebook or even worse your bank, accessing your financial records and important information about you that can be used to steal your identity, etc.  This can also be accomplished by those with less technical knowhow by applying elbow grease and digging through your trash.

How to prepare against this possibility?  Put a passphrase on your wireless internet.  Shred important documents.  Practice good computer security, i.e. don’t set up data shares without passwords on your home network.

There are programs available that can let somebody crack WEP in a few seconds flat, if the password is easy.  Likewise for windows user passwords.  Therefore, use strong encryption like WPA2 and use complicated passwords, and especially don’t use common passwords like the word password, because people who like to compromise networks have built dictionaries (called rainbow tables) of the most common passwords and can cycle through the 5000 most common ones in ten seconds.

Restricted Keyways Now Available

If you are concerned about lending out a key to somebody and then they go to the hardware store (or Fred Meyer’s) and copy it and then give it back to you without telling you that they still retain a copy, you can prevent this hypothetical problem with getting keys in a restricted keyway.  This means that the profile of the key looking at it when pointed at your eye will be a different shape than fits in other locks.  This also means that people can’t buy the same key blank, and thus can’t copy your key.  If they had detailed information about the key they could copy it, or they could use a lost wax method or something to copy the key with a different medium than pre-cast key blanks.  They will also have to go to a great deal more trouble to do so however.  More trouble than simply pulling your door off with a tow hitch or blowtorching through your wall, etc.

The point of all of this is that with a restricted keyway, you can protect against a lot of scenarios involving security breaches that you can’t protect against if you have a common keyway.  The costs are minimal: changing your keyway won’t break the bank.  You are also not tied to my business.  If you want you can pay another locksmith to change the keyway.  If you want key copies however you have to come to me, and I maintain a database of who has what keys, and if you aren’t the same person who bought that key I will call the person in my database for that key.  That is called key control management, and it means that nobody has the key unless you give it to them.

When I rekey people’s houses I always ask if they would like one knob or lever to be keyed differently to allow them to give out a key to workmen.  On days when workers are expected, the deadbolt can be left unlocked and entry is permitted by unlocking the knob or lever.  When entry by people without the common housekey is not desired, the deadbolt is left locked.  This allows you to maintain a relatively safe and secure house though it still leaves you vulnerable to impressioning, picking and bumping.  Criminals don’t usually employ these methods but it is worth thinking about to employ a keyway that makes it almost impossible to use a bumpkey or impressioning on.  Such a lock is still susceptible to picking, but I also offer the upgrade of anti-pick pins which will defeat those of common criminal lockpicking skill.  If your door is thick and your door frame is secure and your lock is grade 2, with a restricted keyway and anti-pick pins you are going to be nearly unassailable.

For those who are interested in the most reasonable prices, I can also give you a less expensive keyway that isn’t restricted, but is old and unused by most and only a locksmith will probably have access to the same key blank.  Let me know!

Masterlock “bump-proof” locks

Today I was reading lock related periodicals as I am wont to do when time weighs heavily and I came across some interesting information regarding masterlock.  Nobody thinks of this company as producing anything that could be called high security as everybody knows somebody that can open their combination locks using a pop can or by listening to the clicks and writing down numbers and doing a small amount of number crunching.

Apparently masterlock did a study on bumpkeying locks and figured out a way to prevent it.  Unfortunately the changes they made to their locks make it even easier to pick them.  You can turn the plug after setting 3 of the 4 pins!  They have always been easy to impression as well.  The silly part is that their locks are now being marketed as “high security” and “ultra security” at Home Depot even now.  Of course, none of this will stop anybody who has a $35 bolt cutter found farther down the store a few aisles, or even a digging bar that will fit in the shackle.

The best security against bumpkeying to my knowledge without buying better locks is to retrofit your locks with higher tension springs and spool pins or serrated pins.  These won’t stop bumpkeying but they will require about ten more taps which is enough to make burglars think twice in the middle of the night.  A well-lubricated Kwikset lock with no security pins only requires one or two taps, for comparison’s sake.

Increasing the Security of Your Door

Today I only had a few jobs and it left me some time to reflect on increasing door security (these are the things locksmiths muse about). A common mantra amongst the security conscious is that your total security is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. A good lock is only as good as the door and the door frame if somebody kicks your door.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a locksmith or a genius to improve your door security. You can certainly call a pro and get it done right probably, but you can also just buy a strip of steel and cut holes in it and screw it into your doorframe. One of my favorite sites has a walkthrough for how to do this.

Illustrating the idea is this wonderful video from a “master locksmith” in Atlanta:

I can also install a door jamb reinforcer for $60.  As mentioned above, you can do this yourself by screwing a strip of steel with holes for your strikes.  Or you could buy this thing for the same price as I charge to install one.

Wenxing 233a Manual – “semi-automatic key duplicator”

I just bought this great key copier from a guy in Port Angeles who is getting out of the business.  I don’t know what he paid for it, but it looks like it must have been about $1000 after shipping.  He sold it to me for considerably less because he lost a retainer screw for the key stop that guides you where to put the key for copying.  It is the same retainer screw used in kwikset levers so I had a spare put in right fast.  A few small adjustments and I am in business.  The very first copy worked in my door.  I got curious about all of the various dials, though I think most of them are self-explanatory.  I wanted to make sure I understood this thing before I did something that would harm it so I emailed and asked for the manual which they emailed to me.  Now I am in turn posting it so that anybody else with one of these doesn’t have to go to all the fake manual sites that are actually adwords spam farms like I did.

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Security is a way of life

Many of you may have read in the news about the US government’s tracking of your internet and phone activities.  Some of you may use the common refrain, “I don’t do anything illegal, why should I care?”  I am interested in security and privacy.  My business has revolved around this from building fences to installing locks and modifying current locks and doors to increase security, and by way of increasing security, increase privacy.

My interest in secuirty and privacy extends to computers, and I am going to share a few tips on how to increase your security and privacy on your computer in the next few paragraphs.

Obviously you want to install a password on your computer, and probably want to install a password on your screensaver as well.  This makes it impossible for somebody to easily get your data if they break into your house and your computer is running.  To further improve this security aspect, have your computer housed in a desk that locks shut, and buy a computer case that has a locking door.  Also put a password in your BIOS.  And when you leave, lock your doors and windows.

To further improve your security, consider encrypting your home directory.  All of the major operating systems offer this feature.  This means that if somebody takes your hard drive home with them after a break-in, they can’t recover any data that was in your home directory without attempting to crack your password (you did pick a password with letters, numbers, and symbols in it, right?)

Use a different password for every website that has your personal information.  For forums or websites where you don’t care if somebody steals your password, use the same password but use a fake name.  Keep all of your passwords stored in a password keeper program like keepass.  Save your passwords in firefox but put an administrator password on your passwords that is difficult.

Put a password on your router and make sure it is wpa or wpa2 and has letters, numbers, and symbols.  There are rainbow tables for l33tsp3@k so don’t trust that.  Make sure that you install a scriptblocker like noscript and disable third party cookies.

Now that everything is encrypted and password protected, you may want to consider installing a proxy if you are concerned about google et al. knowing where you are browsing to.  Installing tor is a great way to anonymize what you are reading.  Install tor and then install foxyproxy in firefox and then run the tor wizard.  Then browse away.  One caveat: if you use tor, the NSA will automatically be barking up your tree.  The NSA probably also runs a few tor exit nodes as well out of interest in what people are using anonymous proxies in the USA for.

Don’t use smartphones.  They record everything you do and everywhere you go.  If you want to be private, use a dumbphone at the very least, and preferably use a landline only.  Who knows, all the warnings about testicular cancer and brain cancer from cellphone use may turn out to be true and then you would be ahead of the game.  If you do buy a smartphone, register a new email address with it that you don’t trust, and use cash when you buy a phone plan that is month to month, like simplemobile.  If you want to be really really private, buy the burner app and buy a new phone number to give out.

Don’t use social media like facebook and tumblr.  These are made to track you.  There is a reason you don’t pay for them: you are the product.  Your information is sold to advertisers to fund the expensive bandwidth and maintenance of these websites.  My rinkydink website hardly anybody visits costs a fair amount a month, so I hate to know what facebook pays per month for bandwidth.

If you follow all of this advice, the NSA will most likely be very interested in your behaviour.  If a lot of us follow this advice, the NSA will have difficulty tracking us.  They may remedy this situation by increasing their budget from congress but free software programmers will no doubt up the ante by releasing new and better tools for maintaining your privacy and security.  Good luck with maintaining these hard-to-find and disappearing facets of a free country.

Yelp is trying to scam me

6/20/13 Update: Yelp has filtered five out of six of my reviews.  Whether as a response to this posting or to increase pressure on me to pay advertising dollars or just coincidence, I leave you to decide.  Whatever the case, I am taking my advertising dollars and using them anywhere but yelp, where I have six reviews that are five stars each, all written by real people, and almost none of them visible.


Many people don’t know, but there have been a lot of bad reviews of yelp, the review site.  The reason?  Yelp has been accused of extorting money out of people to have their ads appear higher in yelp’s search results.  It has actually been shown that yelp will hide good reviews and promote bad reviews of people who don’t pay for yelp advertising.  As soon as they do start paying for yelp advertising, they promote good reviews and hide bad reviews, and don’t put competitor’s ads on your “page”.  Think about that for a second.

The reputation of a website that deals in reviews should be like that of a locksmith: you need to have trust in that company.  I lost my trust in yelp when I decided that today I would look into advertising on yelp but came to realize that yelp was actually hiding me in search results for locksmiths.  They have been asking me to start paying for advertising over the last few months and I suspect this is related.  Following is documentation featuring screen captures of yelp search results sorted in different ways.  I have five reviews that are each five stars, but when I sort locksmiths in North Seattle by “Highest Rated” I don’t even appear on the first page.  Who does appear?  A lot of locksmiths who only have one star reviews.

For the first picture, we have:This clearly shows that number 17 is “Bill’s Locksmith Service who only has 3.5 stars with three reviews.  I have 5 stars from five reviews.  Anybody who graduated from high school knows that I should be above Bill.  I have better ratings and more ratings.

Second, we have this picture which shows the top results for North Seattle and my neighborhood.  As you can see, when listed by “Highest Rated” Maple Leaf Locksmith LLC does not show up.  24 Hour Locksmith does, even though they only have 1 star out of 4 reviews.  That means every single reviewer left them 1 star.  That means that Yelp is probably trying to pressure me to buy advertising, so that I might be reinstated to my rightful place in the search results.  Search results that you rightfully assume are unbiased.

Third is this picture showing where I actually show up.  “Shay” is the woman who is representing yelp and asking me to pay for advertising with them.  I have notified her numerous times of fallacious listings in the locksmith category of yelp as well, yet here they all still are, coming in above me with one star reviews when the results are specifically sorted by average stars per review.

yelp has built a very good database of businesses built for free by people like you and me.  They are using data we edited and collected to make money.  They need to make sure that this data is presented  is used to going to yelp and using it.  I have been using yelp for restaurant reviews as well as everything else under the sun for years, but now that I know their business practices I am reluctant to believe what I read on yelp.  I think I am going to try using Google Local instead.  I emailed yelp to let them know that they would receive no advertising money until they changed how search results are displayed.  If I have five stars, I want my business listed above somebody with four stars and it better be listed above a business with only one star.  My email to follows:

Shay, this is Bjorn the locksmith with Maple Leaf Locksmith LLC in Seattle.  I looked at the advertising prices today and was impressed enough that I set up an advertising campaign but then when I went to preview the ad, my business didn’t even show up in the locksmith listings.  I have five reviews and they are all five stars so I expect when I sort businesses by how well they are rated, my business will come in above a locksmith business that only has one star.
This is unfortunately not the case.  I have attached a screenshot of the results I see when searching Seattle for a locksmith.  I don’t even come up on the list.  I have to zoom in to my own neighborhood before i come up, and my business is underneath businesses with only one star reviews.  If yelp wants my money they had better fix this issue because I am not about to pay a lot of money for ads if your service isn’t going to even put me in search results.  I have five reviews that are each five stars.  I should be very high on the list of locksmiths when the list is sorted by rating.

The second picture I have attached is a list of locksmiths in the Green Lake area.  There are only two legit locksmiths here.  I have the results sorted by “most highly rated”.  I am rated more highly than all but two locksmiths in the area, yet I come in as number 8.  Why is that?

If yelp wants their website to continue being useful, yelp will sort results correctly.  I get the impression that yelp is making me appear lower in search results because they are hoping that I will pay for ads.  If I feel this kind of pressure I will just take my business to Angie’s List and google.

I will close by saying that I would be happy to enter an advertising agreement with yelp but only on the condition that my business appears where it should when locksmiths are sorted by “highest rated”.  I have worked hard for these ratings and I feel cheated to not see my business ranked third where it belongs in the ratings.  I look forward to hearing back from Yelp about this serious matter and seeing it rectified.


Bjorn Madsen

An additional letter to yelp:

Now I notice that yelp has filtered five out of the six reviews that I had.  These were all written by real people who are customers.  I feel strongly that yelp is attempting to extort money out of me for advertising and is punishing me for not buying in.  I will not pay yelp for advertising after witnessing this.  I will take my advertising dollars to the local newspaper and other forms of media instead.  I will also no longer ask people to leave me reviews on yelp.  If yelp continues this sort of thing they will find more and more people will start using google maps instead and yelp will fade into obscurity, just like citysearch did five years before.

-Bjorn Madsen


Following is an interesting parable about a customer dealing with yelp extortion from the other side.  He pulled his bad review from a business’s page because he felt bad for the business, and how they were being extorted.  As soon as his review was removed, the ranking shot up three points!


I’ve seen this happen first-hand. I once submitted a 2 star review due to awful service at a business in town. It happened to be the first review.

A year later, the business owner called me, begging me to take down my review. It turns out they had gotten their act together, and had *22* 4/5 and 5/5 star reviews on Yelp after mine. However, Yelp’s “filtering” algorithm only took my review into account, so it showed a 2/5 star rating for the business and hid the other 22 reviews from site (you would have to click a link to see “more reviews”).

The business owner told me Yelp would “unlock” the hidden reviews if he advertised with them.

I realized how damaging this could be to businesses and decided to take down my review. His rating shot to 4.5/5. If Yelp hadn’t so clearly been trying to extort cash from small businesses, I would have left my review up, and told the owner to deal with it.”

and this

  • No Victim

    In regards to their filter I would like to share my experience. Initiallly, I, like many of my colleagues, had no presence on Yelp. Suddenly, an equivocal review oddly appeared on their site which seemed somehow……….fake. Next, after a series of unsuccesful phone solicitations for advertising I noticed a couple negative reviews, interestingly written by reviewers without an established record of having previously reviewed and without any significant connections/communications on their site. One of them was the one and only review ever written by that person. It is the conjecture of many that the Yelp filter removes reviews as potentially fake which lack those characterisitics however, in my case, they were made prominent. We then tested the filter by asking known highly satisfied customers who had reviewed us about their experience and every single one of those reviews was filtered! These were filtered even when the reviewers were established Yelpers who had written many other reviews and made other connections. When I surveyed other businesses in my area who had advertised, their positive reviews were NOT filtered in this way. Positive reviews, even when written by first timers were prominently displayed. NOt surprisingly, all of these businesses ultimately grew dissatisfied with Yelp. They all complained they were overpaying for advertising which failed to yield expected results and were way overpaying for page views. In summary: Yelp is an extortion fraud and a seriously flawed business which fails to deliver on its advertising promises.

So yelp, what will it be?  Are you going to fix your bs search engine or am I going to advertise with the newspaper instead?