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How a burglar can make a copy of your door key, from a Facebook picture

Martin Appel | July 3, 2015
Place a key on the table and bring out the smartphone camera. It clicks and the screen shows a razor-sharp photo of the key. The photo is all you need to print a perfect copy of the key.

"I wanted to tell my friends that I was going to move," she says.

The picture was sharp and good and the congratulations started to arrive. But then someone mentioned that you should avoid putting up pictures of your keys online.

"I realized that it wasn't such a good idea to put up that photo, but I didn't think about security at all," she says.

She had no idea that it's possible to create a copy of a key from a photo.

"I know that you have to be careful about giving your key to others, since you can make a mold out of clay, but I didn't know that a photo is sufficient.

For Christina Eberhadson there was no damage done; she wasn't going to stay in her new apartment for long -- but she learned something for the future.

"Next time I move I won't take a pic of my key. I might put up one of the front door instead."

How we copied our key -- step by step

1. We begin with placing our key on a table and taking a photo -- with a common smartphone. It's the same kind of photo a lot of people might put up on Facebook. We transfer the photo to the computer and open it in the Paint software. There we crop the picture to exclude everything but the key. We used a common lock from Habo, but it could have been a similar lock from another manufacturer. The brand isn't important in this case.

2. We convert the photo to an eps file with the Inkscape software. Next step is to open the file in a 3D software. We use the 360 Fusion software. It's not free, but you can download a free test version and there are lots of other free alternatives.

3. Then the hard part begins -- to convert the photo to a three-dimensional picture which can be printed from a 3D printer. The first step is to mask the background and isolate the key. We create an outer contour of the key. Since the "teeth" and notches are the main things that makes the key fit in the lock it takes time to get it right.

4. We have a perfect two-dimensional picture of the key and to give it depth we add its height. To set the right value is one of the challenges, since the height isn't visible in the photo. In our case we use another key from the same manufacturer. Except for the teeth, the keys are identical.

5. It's time to make the grooves in the key. Where they are placed is visible in the picture, but to measure the particular depth and angle of each groove we use our other key. When we are satisfied, we save the picture as an sdl file. Sdl is the standard format for 3D prints. We take a look at the preview and start the print. Now the printing of the key begins, all in all it will take about an hour.


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