Duplicating keys from a photograph

November 17, 2008 – 6:06 PM

Nowadays you don’t need a locksmith or even lockpicking tools to get past a locked door without a key–you can do it using software, a photograph of the key and a key-cutting machine.

Researchers from University of California, San Diego developed software called “Sneakey” that enables anyone to make duplicates of keys without needing a sample key.

At the Association for Computing Memory’s Conference on Computer and Communications Security three weeks ago, the researchers demonstrated the system using photographs from Flickr and photos taken as far away as 200 feet using a high-powered telephoto lens, according to an article in Scientific American.

“There is a five-digit number that represents all of the information in a standard key,” said U.C. San Diego computer science professor Stefan Savage. “You type that code into a key-cutting machine and it makes a perfect replica.”

Savage supervised the research conducted by graduate students Kai Wang and Ben Laxton. The software analyzes a photograph of a key and calculates the dimensions of the key’s grooves, known as the “bitting.” The system works best with keys made from common brands.


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