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Business - Written by on Thursday, November 20, 2008 17:59 - 0 Comments

Jeff DeChambeau
How digital-physical convergence has deprecated the key

Have keys? If so, a scientist from California could have already broken into your home, car, or office even as you read this post. MSNBC is reporting on research that a team at the University of California is doing with which they can duplicate a working key based on nothing more than a picture of that key. The software examines the key, infers a virtual model of it, and then cuts a copy. The analysis and duplication takes about 30 seconds, and the only real bottleneck for the process is the one minute that it takes to physically cut the duplicate key. The researchers set up a special case to prove their point:

For a more dramatic demonstration, the researchers set up a camera with a zoom lens 200 feet away. Using those photos, they created a working key 80 percent on their first try. Within three attempts they opened every lock.

I’ve written before about inferring things about the physical world from pictures, but this still caught off guard — even if it is a completely logical consequence of being able to digitize just about anything based on photographs alone. There’s lots of security focus on better encryption and safer habits, but they all assume that we’re sitting at a desk, immersed in the digital world. Since everyday the digital world extends further out of our screens and into our everyday lives, and the objects that we use in our everday lives, we’re going to have to increasingly apply what used to be exclusively virtual safey precautions to our day-to-day, real world lives.

At the heart of this story I think is a great point: digital/physical security isn’t necessarily a relatable, or sexy topic. Talking about open source voting machines or how long search data stays in Google’s index isn’t usually a hit at the bar, but they’re really important topics, and are getting more important everyday. Taking a photo of someone’s key, and immediately and successfully duplicating it strikes me as just the kind of story that can push the dialogue about new security requirements into the mainstream — or at least result in a boon for the high-resolution camera industry.



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