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These 3D Printed Keys Are A Criminal's Best Friend

Any technology used for good, can also be used for evil…

Michael Cruickshank
These 3D Printed Keys Are A Criminal's Best Friend© 2018 (Un)Locked

The humble lock is now several centuries old. We use them to protect our houses, our valuables, our cars, and sometimes even our lives. While traditional key locks are by no means perfect, they are generally hard enough to crack that they give us an acceptable level of security and peace of mind. Unfortunately, new disruptive technologies could end once and for all this key based sense of security.

One of the most popular approaches to getting through locks, is not through lock picking, as is commonly thought, but rather through the use of so-called ‘bump-keys’. These are keys that have been filed down in such as way as that they can trigger a lock to open when ‘bumped’ by a mallet. In the past, high security lock manufacturers have resorted to using strange lock shapes in order to make this kind of attack much more difficult.

Now security researchers, Jos Weyers and Christian Holler have come up with an approach which can even defeat this countermeasure. With just a photograph of the shape of lock, as well as some background knowledge on how locks work, they can 3D print a customised bump key. This key is then able to easily open even high security locks, with just a few hits from a mallet.

Image: © 2014 (Un)Locked

In order to generate this key, the researchers, who are merely trying to show the vulnerabilities of locks in the modern world, utilised a specialised software program they created which they call Photobump. This program generates a bump key shape based on images of the lock and knowledge about its design. The 3D printed key itself, can be made out of metal or plastic, meaning that almost any consumer-grade 3D printer could create the kind of specialised key used.

While this is unlikely to end key-based locks’ dominance over securing places in the near future, further developments like this could lead to more and more people begin to feel that keys are now a risky prospect. In time people could trend towards using other more secure technologies such as biometrics or electronic codes in order to keep their objects secure.


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