Key cloning

The ease with which the security safeguards of the information age (from usernames to credit card numbers) can be stolen, copied and sold on the Internet makes more traditional devices, such as good old keys and locks, seem supremely effective by comparison.

But thanks to researchers at the University of California, even those safeguards are now subject to a degree of digital-era insecurity.

In October 2008, computer science professor Stefan Savage and his team unveiled a piece of software that can duplicate a key using only a photograph of it. The software uses 3D-modelling technology that allows it to successfully process low-res images, so a digital photo from 200ft or a cameraphone picture would be enough to clone a key.

Dr Savage says his work proves that people should be more careful putting their photos online, as they may be putting their home at risk. “If you go on to a photo-sharing site such as Flickr, you will find many photos of people’s keys that can be used to easily make duplicates,” he says.

With the resolution of images created by affordable digital cameras, and the sophistication of image-processing software Savage’s work points to a troubling future. Will it be necessary to cover one’s fingertips in snaps to prevent identity theft?

But it also resurrects a perennial question: are security researchers helping society to fight criminals, or are they giving them ideas?

Further reading

Superhacker Gary McKinnon on corporate security’s weak spots
As he faces imminent extradition to the US for hacking into top-secret US military systems, Gary McKinnon tells Information Age how his experiences highlight the security shortcomings of corporate IT

Spearing the elite
High-profile individuals, across both the political and corporate arenas, are increasingly having their personal data targeted in ‘spearphishing’ attacks

Wiring the White House
Former White House CIO Carlos Solari: All the President’s IT

Book review: Schneier on Security
Crime watcher Bruce Schneier provides a refreshing take on the occasionally over-hyped dangers of the IT security industry

Wise guys on the web
The Mafia are well-versed in computer crime, according to the original Donnie Brasco

Find more stories in the Security & Continuity Briefing Room

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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