UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering (Original Press Release)
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It looks like the writers of CBS's Numb3rs were inspired by SneaKey...check it out above.


Reconsidering Physical Key Secrecy: Teleduplication via Optical Decoding


Benjamin Laxton Kai Wang Stefan Savage
University of California, San Diego University of California, San Diego University of California, San Diego

ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS) 2008


Our SNEAKEY system correctly decoded the keys shown in the above image that was taken from the rooftop of a four floor building. The inlay shows the image that was used for decoding while the background provides a context for the extreme distances that our system can operate from. In this case the image was taken from 195 feet. This demonstration shows that a motivated attacker can covertly steal a victim's keys without fear of detection. The SNEAKEY system provides a compelling example of how digital computing techniques can breach the security of even physical analog systems in the real-world.

The access control provided by a physical lock is based on the assumption that the information content of the corresponding key is private --- that duplication should require either possession of the key or a priori knowledge of how it was cut. However, the ever-increasing capabilities and prevalence of digital imaging technologies present a fundamental challenge to this privacy assumption. Using modest imaging equipment and standard computer vision algorithms, we demonstrate the effectiveness of physical key teleduplication --- extracting a key's complete and precise bitting code at a distance via optical decoding and then cutting precise duplicates. We describe our prototype system, Sneakey, and evaluate its effectiveness, in both laboratory and real-world settings, using the most popular residential key types in the U.S.

Benjamin Laxton, Kai Wang, and Stefan Savage
Reconsidering Physical Key Secrecy: Teleduplication via Optical Decoding.
ACM CCS 2008, Alexandria, VA, October 2008.

Paper pdf.

The code for this project was developed in Matlab. If there is sufficient interest I may release it in the future.