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Locksmithing began as the science and art of making and defeating locks. A lock is a mechanism that secures buildings, rooms, cabinets, food, or other storage facilities. A key is often used to open a lock. Means of opening a lock often include what you know (a combination), what you have (a key or keycard) or what you are (biometrics).
Locksmithing is one of the earliest forms of security engineering. Lock picking was one of the first methods of cracking security systems.
A "smith" of any type is one who shapes metal pieces, often using a forge or mould, into useful objects or to be part of a more complex structure. Locksmithing, as its name implies, is the assembly and designing of locks and their respective keys.
Although fitting of keys to replace lost keys to automobiles and homes and the changing of keys for homes and businesses to maintain security are still an important part of locksmithing, locksmiths today are primarily involved in the installation of higher quality locksets and the design, implementation and management of keying and key control systems. Most locksmiths also do electronic lock servicing, such as making keys for transponder-equipped vehicles and the implementation and application of access control systems protecting individuals and assets for many large institutions. In terms of physical security, a locksmith's work frequently involves making a determination of the level of risk to an individual or institution and then recommending and implementing appropriate combinations of equipment and policies to create "security layers" which exceed the reasonable gain to an intruder or attacker. The more different security layers are implemented, the more the requirement for additional skills and knowledge and tools to defeat them all. But because each layer comes at an expense to the customer, the application of appropriate levels without exceeding reasonable costs to the customer is often very important and requires a skilled and knowledgeable locksmith to determine.
Locksmiths may be commercial (working out of a storefront), mobile (working out of a vehicle), institutional (employed by an institution) or investigational (forensic locksmiths) or may specialize in one aspect of the skill, such as an automotive lock specialist, a master key system specialist or a safe technician. Many (not all) are also security consultants, but not every security consultant has the skills and knowledge of a locksmith. Locksmiths are frequently certified in specific skill areas or to a level of skill within the trade. This is separate from certificates of completion of training courses. In determining skill levels, certifications from manufacturers or locksmith associations are usually more valid criteria than certificates of completion. Some locksmiths decide to call themselves "Master Locksmiths" whether they are fully trained or not, and some training certificates appear quite authoritative. It may be noted, however, that in some countries a particular level of qualification or membership of an organisation is required before one can adopt the term Master Locksmith.
In the general case, a lock will not keep out an absolutely determined intruder with unlimited resources, skills, knowledge and time. However, even a minimal lock can delay a typical intruder for a time, and the disturbance generated in circumventing a high-quality lock, for example by breaking windows or doors, can deter many attackers, causing them to direct their attacks against weaker targets.
When combined with secure containers, or document destruction systems, or electronic access or alarm systems, locks can provide much higher levels of security. Some locksmiths possess these skills, and others form business relationships with companies or individuals with these specialties.
 'Full disclosure'
The issue of full disclosure was first raised in the context of locksmithing, in a 19th century controversy regarding whether weaknesses in lock systems should be kept secret in the locksmithing community, or revealed to the public.
According to A. C. Hobbs:
A commercial, and in some respects a social doubt has been started within the last year or two, whether or not it is right to discuss so openly the security or insecurity of locks. Many well-meaning persons suppose that the discussion respecting the means for baffling the supposed safety of locks offers a premium for dishonesty, by showing others how to be dishonest. This is a fallacy. Rogues are very keen in their profession, and know already much more than we can teach them respecting their several kinds of roguery. Rogues knew a good deal about lock-picking long before locksmiths discussed it among themselves, as they have lately done. If a lock, let it have been made in whatever country, or by whatever maker, is not so inviolable as it has hitherto been deemed to be, surely it is to the interest of honest persons to know this fact, because the dishonest are tolerably certain to apply the knowledge practically; and the spread of the knowledge is necessary to give fair play to those who might suffer by ignorance. It cannot be too earnestly urged that an acquaintance with real facts will, in the end, be better for all parties. Some time ago, when the reading public was alarmed at being told how London milk is adulterated, timid persons deprecated the exposure, on the plea that it would give instructions in the art of adulterating milk; a vain fear, milkmen knew all about it before, whether they practiced it or not; and the exposure only taught purchasers the necessity of a little scrutiny and caution, leaving them to obey this necessity or not, as they pleased.
- -- From A. C. Hobbs (Charles Tomlinson, ed.), Locks and Safes: The Construction of Locks. Published by Virtue & Co., London, 1853 (revised 1868).
Locksmithing is a traditional trade, and in most countries requires completion of an Apprenticeship. The level of formal education required varies from country to country, from a simple training certificate awarded by an employer, to a full Diploma from an Engineering College (such as in Australia) in addition to time spent working as an apprentice.
 Topics in locksmithing
 Technical terms in locksmithing
 Technical terms in lock-picking
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