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Mary Bellis

Lock it Up... And Hide the Key

By December 1, 2012

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keysUC San Diego computer scientists have built a software program that can perform key duplication without having the key. Instead, the computer scientists only need a photograph of the key.

"We built our key duplication software system to show people that their keys are not inherently secret," said Stefan Savage, the computer science professor from UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering who led the student-run project. "Perhaps this was once a reasonable assumption, but advances in digital imaging and optics have made it easy to duplicate someone's keys from a distance without them even noticing."

The bumps and valleys on your house or office keys represent a numeric code that completely describes how to open your particular lock. If a key doesn't encode this precise "bitting code," then it won't open your door.

In one demonstration of the new software system, the computer scientists took pictures of common residential house keys with a cell phone camera, fed the image into their software which then produced the information needed to create identical copies. In another example, they used a five inch telephoto lens to capture images from the roof of a campus building and duplicate keys sitting on a café table about 200 feet away.

Comments
December 10, 2012 at 12:33 am
(1) Ken in San Jose says:

A few year ago on the internet I ran into an interesting booklet “MIT Guide to Lock Picking” (not endorsed by MIT). It not only gives information for picking locks but gives a good description on how locks work. An interesting read.

December 12, 2012 at 5:58 pm
(2) Chuck says:

The vast majority of locks are decorative and often can be defeated faster than opening with the key. Locks mostly keep people from being tempted.

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