New Software Can Steal Your Keys with a Photograph

Here’s one for you: Your online profile may have enough information to let a savvy crook create a functioning key to your home.

It sounds crazy, but it’s apparently true. Some scientists at the University of California-San Diego have come up with an algorithm that can generate a physical key from a simple image of one. Almost any kind of picture will work, whether it’s taken from near or afar, whether it’s shot straight-on or from an odd angle.

The program, revealed to the Discovery Channel this week, is one powerful piece of software. The researchers say the system was able to replicate real keys from thousands of regular photos they found on Flickr-style sites, where someone’s keys just happened to be visible in the picture.

But it’s not only online profiles this thing can crack — leaving your keys out on a table at a restaurant could make them vulnerable, too. The scientists have an 80 percent success rate at duplicating keys after photographing them from as far as 200 feet away. And the whole process takes a matter of minutes. Freaky, eh?

The UC San Diego team insists it won’t use the invention for any questionable purposes. I’m not sure what their actual intentions were in developing it, but I can tell you this: I won’t be flashing my keys in any digital photographs any time soon.