Hacking your house key - Macleans.ca

Hacking your house key

Anyone with the right software and a 3D printer can do it


Photo by Pulpolux !!!

Here’s something as cool as it is concerning:

If these guys have a photograph of your house key, even one taken with a cellphone camera from 200 feet away, they can feed it into a piece of software called SNEAKEY and load the resulting file into a $400 3D printer which will then spit out a duplicate key that can open your front door.

Now that’s some Mission Impossible shizz.

Turns out, there aren’t a lot of variables with most house keys: a handful of standard types and brands, and then five or six cuts of varying depths. SNEAKEY can identify your brand and type and then measure the depths of the cuts, regardless of the angle the photo is taken at. It then uses other visual reference points in the photo to calculate the size of the key, and voila! A 3D file that can be shaved layer by layer out of a block of wood or plastic with an increasingly affordable object printer.

3D printing is still more or less the realm of hobbyists—it works, but on a slow and small scale. Complicated objects must be printed out one piece at a time over the course of hours and then assembled like toys. But keys are simple, one-piece objects that suggest a new, more practical use for 3D printers—burglary!

With the recent rash of hack attacks, one senses a loss of public confidence in assets that exist in purely digital form. But before you convert those abstract pixels on your online banking statement into cold hard cash and stuff it all under your mattress, keep in mind that the physical world is increasingly accessible through digitization.


Hacking your house key

  1. I suppose we must now conceal housekeys just as we conceal PINs.  For people using digital door locks, they are already facing the concealment issue.  Perhaps we need to go with biometric locks for our homes.

    But many burglars enter through windows anyway. 

    • Nah, you should be able to use an RSA rotating key encryption. Many companies already use this to provide rotating passwords to employees. It’s a small electronic device that has embedded digital keys to generate passwords. Not totally secure, but a hacker would need physical access to the key and a fair bit of sophisticated hardware to capture the encryption keys, not just visual inspection and a thousand bucks worth of equipment and some free software.

  2. You do know that lock picking is actually pretty easy on most such locks also, and that going in through your window is actually the barrier to entry?

  3. I higly doubt that a cellphone picture from 200 feet would provide enough detail to even recognize an object as a key. 

    • Maybe it’s a DSLR with a zoom lens that can also make phone calls.

  4. Wait, so someone invents something truly out of Star Trek, and instead of celebrating what may be truly revolutionary, our first instinct is to fear burglary? Put the pessimism aside my friend and stand in awe of this amazing achievement!

  5. So…. RSA encryption electronic locks to the rescue?