'Sneakey' software can duplicate keys from images — even crummy ones

Computer programmers at UC San Diego have whipped up software that poses a serious threat. Called "Sneakey," it can use an image of a key from almost any angle to create an exact replica. It doesn't have to be a good image, either. Cellphone pictures work and, in a chilling example, the team successfully reproduced a key using a shot taken with a telephoto lens from 200 feet away.

"You only need to click a few control points in the image of the key and the 'Sneakey' program does the rest," programmer Benjamin Laxton told a UCSD reporter, "It normalizes the key's size and position so that each pixel then corresponds to a known distance. From this information the height of each of the key cuts can easily be computed and likewise the bitting code can be extracted."

It's devilishly simple, which is worrying. The "Sneakey" software was used last night as part of a presentation at the Conference on Communications and Computer Security, as an example of how new technology changes the game when it comes to security. What can you do to guard against it? Not much, save treat your keys like you do your credit card. Don't publicize its image, because that's all "Sneaky" and software like it would need.