How Thieves Can Copy Your Keys Using Just a Photo

 In home security

Computer scientists at UC San Diego recently demonstrated a technique where they could use a smart phone camera to take an image of a key and then use that image as an instruction set for a key-making machine. In other words, like something out of a science fiction novel, they were able to survey a key from nearly 200 feet away and then make a copy of it that was able to unlock a business.

How It Works

The keys most commonly used for homes and businesses in the United States have a series of five or six cuts at regular intervals. Using a photograph of a key, a computer can measure the spacing and depth of each cut. The photo does not have to be clean, and the computer can adjust for angle and other factors. Once that information is known, it is a simple thing to translate it into the biting code that is used to manufacture a specific key.

A New Threat

The good news is that there are no known cases of such a technique being used to gain access to a business or home. This was simply a proof of concept in a manipulated scenario, but it is a powerful proof of concept because it demonstrates just how tenuous our security is. Where there is a will, there is a way, so if someone wants to break in bad enough, there is likely tech to help them do that.

Keep Your Keys on Your Person

If we can take anything from this demonstration, it is that we should keep our keys close to us at all times, which is simply a good habit to be in regardless. When you leave keys lying out on a desk, you’re taking a risk. Someone could photograph them, or they could just as easily snatch them. A clever thief could even snatch the keys, duplicate them and return them before you ever knew they were gone.

Be Careful Posting Images Online

The real risk here may be in the images we post on social media. With the rise of Facebook-related burglaries, this has become a big concern because thieves are using Facebook to target people. A family that announces their vacation on Facebook makes themselves a target. If they are lax about security, then they may accidentally provide the thief with everything he or she needs, private information including images of their keys, alarm access codes, license plate numbers, social security, etc.

Hi-Tech Alternatives

For businesses that must protective sensitive resources, this kind of threat is a very big concern. The best way to eliminate this kind of security flaw is to eliminate the need for keys entirely. For instance, some buildings are controlled entirely by computerized access systems. If a person wants to open a door, they slide or hold up an ID badge. Such an approach is not foolproof. ID badges can be scanned and duplicated too, just not as easily. Nevertheless, data on ID badges can be protected with encryption and other techniques, so even if the thief has physical access to the card, gaining the necessary data may be no simple feat.

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