Keys cloned from long-range photographs

Paul Raven @ 30-10-2008

bunch of keysHere’s a neat but nasty little criminal hack that some smart folks at UC San Diego just released as a proof-of-concept: it’s possible for someone to clone your house keys from a photograph taken up to 200 feet away.

The keys used in the most common residential locks in the United States have a series of 5 or 6 cuts, spaced out at regular intervals. The computer scientists created a program in MatLab that can process photos of keys from nearly any angle and measure the depth of each cut. String together the depth of each cut and you have a key’s bitting code, which together with basic information on the brand and type of key you have, is what you need to make a duplicate key.

Crafty stuff, so much so that they suggest that blurring your key teeth on public photographs is probably as wise as blurring your credit card numbers – though it’s hard to imagine a criminal bothering to do this if they could just get their hands on the right sort of bump key.

But it’s a great example of the sort of minor science fiction plot point that would have sounded ridiculously futuristic just ten years ago… I guess maybe tagging yourself with an RFID chip to open your door has merits after all. [picture by Bohman]

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2 Responses to “Keys cloned from long-range photographs”

  1. Tom Marcinko says:

    This definitely goes into the crime-novel ideas file.

  2. Robert Koslover says:

    Well, this is yet another twist on something I’ve been concerned about for a while. Extended-range, low-cost, high-resolution telescopy and photography pose security and privacy hazards. When people can observe you from a distance in high detail, you become at risk when opening combination locks, reading private documents in public places or near an uncurtained window in your home, simply opening your wallet in the public market and thereby exposing your driver’s license, credit cards, or other ID to surreptitious viewing and subsequent identity theft, etc.

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