Spying on Your Keys

New technology can duplicate a key from 200 feet away

Computer scientists at UCSD have built a program that duplicates keys using pictures taken from hundreds of feet away without the owner even noticing.

"We just thought it was an interesting idea and it took off from there," said Benjamin Laxton, a UCSD alum who recently earned his Master's degree in computer science.

Laxton wrote the software for the program, called "Sneak-key", in his free time. The technology can duplicate a key from 200 feet away easily. It processes photos from nearly any angle and measures the depth of each cut.

The professor overseeing the project said the team wanted to show the public how vulnerable exposing their keys can make them.

"If you go to online sites such as flickr, you'll find tons of people who post photographs of their keys as well as information on where they live that anyone can look at and that's probably due to ignorance that there actually releasing some personally important information," said Stefan Savage, UCSD Associate Professor.

Locksmiths have been able to reproduce keys from high-resolution photographs for some time. What this program does, is show how digital cameras can grab a key's information without the thief needing any expert training.

Sneak-key's creators warn people to treat their keys like they do their credit cards and keep them in their pockets.

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