3D Printing’s Unintended Consequences: Keys

Movies make it look easy, you just press a pilfered key into clay, both sides, then without any further fuss, you can make as many perfect duplicate keys as you’d like. Slip the original back before they notice and you’re in, free and clear. Problem is, it’s not actually quite that easy to make a functional key.

Or is it?

Turns out that one of the tricks that the newest generation of 3D printers, coupled with 3D scanners, can deliver is duplication of keys for situations where the tumblers aren’t too stiff (they’re not – yet – as strong as a traditional metal key).

What can you do with this? When The Washington Post published an article about master airline security keys someone actually used the published photos as masters for a 3D model, printed the resultant key and demonstrated it being used to pop open luggage locks.

3d printed key opening luggage lock

If that doesn’t alarm you, you’re not thinking about implications. Because this proves that it is indeed sufficient for you to have a photo of a key and with the right software and know-how, you can create a duplicate key. Since 3D printers keep evolving, it’s also just a matter of time before harder and harder materials are produced, defeating¬†even stiff locks.

Enter RFID. It’s not perfect (it can be duplicated too) but a physical key that also has an embedded element remains at least quite a lot of work for the average person. But that metal key on the keychain in your pocket? Yeah, how much do you trust the guy in valet parking? Or the auto mechanic who has access to your house key and the knowledge of where you live?

A brave new world. And this is still just the beginning of what 3D printing is going to do to shake up our world…

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