Sneakey: copy keys from photos

Sneakey: copy keys from photos

Via Discovery News:

Scientists in California have developed a software algorithm that automatically creates a physical key based solely on a picture of one, regardless of angle or distance. The project, called Sneakey, was meant to warn people about the dangers of haphazardly placing keys in the open or posting images of them online.

When Savage and his students searched online photo sharing Web sites, like Flickr, they easily found thousands of photos of keys with enough definition to replicate. A more social person could simply use their cell phone camera to snap a quick picture of stray keys on a table top.

the researchers set up a camera with a zoom lens 200 feet away. Using those photos, they created a working key 80 percent on their first try. Within three attempts they opened every lock.

Check out the researcher’s site here, where you can learn more and read their paper: “Reconsidering Physical Key Secrecy: Teleduplication via Optical Decoding.”

So, if I’m understanding this correctly, you could have a camera with zoom hundreds of feet away from a door and leave it recording. If you’ve achieved the right angle, you could capture a few frames of the key pre-insertion-into-the-door that let you then make your own copy!

16 thoughts on “Sneakey: copy keys from photos

  1. Paul says:

    What a waste of time and effort.

    All you need is a BUMP key. A quick search of the WEB will reveal more than enough information for you to make one in minutes and using it is simple.

    This technique may be of value for non Yale (like the ones in the picture above) style locks though.

  2. m says:

    or you could throw a rock through the window :)

    still a neat idea though.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What has science done?

  4. Andrew says:

    Turns out carrying around specially-shaped pieces of metal for access control doesn’t work that well.

  5. clvrmnky says:

    You need two pieces of information in order for this to work: a photo of the key, and knowing what lock the key goes into.

    So casual searching for photos of keys is pointless unless you have a pretty good idea of where those keys might fit.

  6. wikityler says:

    It’s interesting that this is all over the internet now, since just a few days ago I had to make a key from a picture without any fancy software. I was at a wrecker buying door lock cylinders for my car. Unfortunately the car only had one key, and the wrecker wanted to keep it with the ignition, not the locks. So, I placed the key onto a piece of paper, and took a few pictures. I then took one of the cylinders to a real good local locksmithing company, where they matched a blank to the cylinder. At home I used gimp to make an outline of the key’s pattern, and then printed it out. I then used the toner transfer trick (like a pcb) to put the pattern onto the key. Then all I had to do was use my dremmel to key the blank to shape.

    Works like a real copy. Obviously the only reasons it was so easy for me to do is because I had the cylinder to match a blank to, and that I was able to get several pictures against a white background.

  7. JBB says:

    At work, the Operations people don’t keep spare keys, they keep a record of what “numbers” translate to the key to open a particular door. The numbers often run from 1 through 10, and there’s a key “nibbler” that is used to cut the key’s teeth down to a particular number.

    I’ve seen locksmiths look at a key to duplicate, and rattle off the numbers for the pins. “3, 7, 1, 1, 9,” he’d say, and then set the dials on the nibbler and produce a duplicate key.

    The really clever thing about this is just that there’s now software to put that capability into the hands of the novice.

    By the way, if you’re opening a door with a key that obviously fits it right, I’ll probably leave you alone. But if I catch you with a bump key, I’m going to assume you’re breaking in and probably have to break a few of your fingers for you.

  8. I am your Father says:

    Luke is admitting to us all that he is now planning on taking your junk.

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Luke Iseman

Luke Iseman makes stuff, some of which works. He invites you to drive a bike for a living (, stop killing your garden (, and live in an off-grid shipping container (

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