Pocket Dump: Could Your EDC Photo Allow Criminals to Break Into Your Home? - ITS Tactical
 

Pocket Dump: Could Your EDC Photo Allow Criminals to Break Into Your Home?

By Rob Henderson

key-imaging-03

If you’re anything like me, you love Every Day Carry photos, forums and discussions. Whether I’m posting a photo or just browsing other people’s, I enjoy seeing what’s being carried since I’m always on the lookout for better gear. However, I never thought that from one simple online photo, someone could gain access to my home, relative’s homes or even my vehicle.

Technology is getting better every day. Cameras, computers, phones and even vehicles are getting smarter and faster. While we’re not too far from a future of self-driving cars and robot butlers, there’s one technology that’s painfully behind the times; key technology. Take a look at your key ring, how many keys do you have with only cuts for traditional one sided pin and tumbler locks? For me, it was four out of seven.

New Technology vs. Old Technology

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One of the first things people will tell you after posting an EDC photo is to blur out your keys. Their claim is that someone could take the key image from the photo and make a functional copy. Intrigued, I wanted to find out if I was able to do exactly that. I chose to use an old Schlage deadbolt I had laying around after changing my front door lock a few months back. This is a single sided lock with standard (not security) pins and I knew this would be the most simple key to attempt this with.

I staged an EDC photo containing a few items including a small ring of keys made up of some training lock keys and my Schlage deadbolt key, then set out to copy my own key using only a computer, printer and common tools.

Making a Key from a Photo

EDC Photo Example

Using the photo above, (taken with my iPhone 6 Plus) I isolated the Schlage key with Photoshop and singled it out. After using the blank key to measure scale in the photo, I was able to print a blacked out version of the key that I could use to trace around for my blank. I printed the key photo out on a thicker card stock, as I thought that printer paper might not be durable enough to withstand the tracing and matching I would need to do.

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After printing the key out, I carefully cut around the image with scissors and used that outline to trace the pattern onto the blank key with a small sharpie. I was relying on the fact that the Schlage lock would have a fairly loose tolerance to accommodate worn keys or slight imperfections in manufacturing.

Once I had a rough outline of the pin heights on the key, I secured the key into the vice and started to file the grooves using a triangular file. The triangular file was extremely useful as it made the much needed “V” shape for the key. I paid careful attention and moved slowly like a barber, I could take more off, but couldn’t add more back.

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With the rough outline finished, I began making filing very lightly in an attempt to round out the sharp edges. The most difficult sections of the key to file were the smaller grooves at the front and middle of the key. The file I was using was almost too large to make the precise shapes that were required.

Throughout the process, I continued to match my cutout and key blank together to see where I needed to remove more material. After about ten minutes, I had a finished key that I compared to the original.

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The two keys looked very similar but my filed key obviously had rougher edges. To my surprise, when I inserted the filed key into the deadbolt, it opened right up. There was a little bit of catch when turning the cylinder initially, but it did open the lock up. After a few more times inserting it and turning, the burs wore down and the hang up disappeared. It now functions exactly like the original key.

Real World Application

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This scenario was set up as a “best possible condition” scenario. The key in the photo above is flat on a contrasting color table, allowing for a mostly perfect outline to be isolated. While that might be the case, I have definitely seen photos similar to this in the past and the isolation process I used took about five minutes. With more time, someone could attempt to use an angled photo of a key to create a copy. The purpose of this was to see if it would even be possible and after attempting it, the answer is a definite yes.

So what can you do to combat this technique? Rather than using a high-tech photo editing program, consider the low-tech option of just excluding your keys from photos. Especially considering the software that’s available to remove blurring and masking from photos.

For those that voice the argument, “Someone is welcome to try and copy my key, they still don’t know where I live,” consider the amount of information that is available online today. EXIF Data from photos, as well as social media profiles like Facebook and Instagram may give would-be robbers more information that you’d think. The safest bet is keeping your keys under lock and key.

 

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Discussion

77 comments
ZachCraft
ZachCraft

You could have used a old credit card as a key instead of using a blank.

Walt Dockery
Walt Dockery

Or upgrade your locks to to something like an Abloy Protec.


a traditional pin and tumbler lock is a very low measure of security.



Sergey Medvedev
Sergey Medvedev

@ITStactical, this article picks up a really important question, is it OK if I translate it in Russian and publish on my blog or in local some internet media? I mean I would try to get the maximum reach for this, while I am an IT-startuper, not a popular blogger or writer :)
With all links and references to itstactical.com and Rob Henderson, of course.

ar7mm08
ar7mm08

If your "target" is in the big city, I think it could be a lot simpler than hand making a key. Just take the photo of the key and have a key printed from a nearby 24/7 kiosk: https://key.me/


Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson

@ar7mm08 Wow. Great resource, but talk about a company I would NEVER EVER consider using for my own home key. I'm not buying for a second that they or their employees aren't able to keep lists of key signatures and addresses of customers. 

Christopher Gray
Christopher Gray

I try to limit what I post because we are already being watched everywhere and the software for facial recognition can be used to recognize just about anything including firearms. That and the geo tagging thats automatic in most digital pictures just seems like giving away too much info.

Doc Nicholas
Doc Nicholas

Okay, now being a self proclaimed amateur escape artist I have to try this.

Matt Barnes
Matt Barnes

locks do nothing of the sort. good polite people knock on closed doors because of morals and common sense. locks just keep lazy thieves out.

Matt Barnes
Matt Barnes

lock picking is too easy to bother with this. this is neat but im not sure if anyone would ever bother doing it this way. still keeping your keys out of pix or not allowing individual side profile pics would keep it from happening.

Jesse Piehl
Jesse Piehl

I've tried bump keys, not easy and a waste of time

Jesse Piehl
Jesse Piehl

I'm a locksmith. Easy, I've opened cars by looking at the key through the window and cutting a new one

Stephen Landon
Stephen Landon

Also of note, if you are carrying the original key that came with your lock it's even easier. Look for a series of five numbers etched or stamped into the key perpendicular to the blade of the key. It's usually the actual cut depths and you don't even need a picture. If you set your keys on the bar all anyone needs is a napkin to write them down then follow you home. Then they can go make a key and wait for you to leave for work the next morning.

krazy8ny
krazy8ny

@ITStactical Great article! Agreed, entirely plausible. Used similar & lower tech methods to re cut broken/damaged keys for retail customers

Erik Conrad
Erik Conrad

I'm a locksmith and you can still find these blanks, plus I can hand file them to fit.

Erik Conrad
Erik Conrad

As a locksmith this has been true for years. I can look at a key and make one or pick the lock or hand file a key to fit. From a locksmith nothing is truly safe.

Brad Koehn
Brad Koehn

My doors are locked for your protection not mine.

Paul Errman
Paul Errman

You'd have to posse such technology so unless you're wealthy enough to care about getting ripped off or you're a hot female with a boatload of stalkers...you're probably not gonna have to worry about it too much from the types of people that want an easy key to your place or valuables...they'll just bash the window and call it a day. Haha

A Nobody
A Nobody

It's not even that you have to be wealthy enough. There are either programs that are relatively free that will give you better quality photos or you can just pirate the programs. As for the equipment used for filing the key, a dremel is quite cheap and can do a good job.  

Tim Benish
Tim Benish

Graphics manipulation software does wonders

Tim Benish
Tim Benish

The tsa keys have been duplicated from the picture by people i know

J Curtis Davis
J Curtis Davis

I sincerely doubt your average criminal is using this method to decide which house to burglarize.

Bee Throwaway
Bee Throwaway

But then how will people like my posts?!?! I need to feel loved.

Sheikh Rahman
Sheikh Rahman

I think you don't even need to replicate the key from the photo. You can get into most houses with a "bump key." Or so I've been told.

Kevin Davis
Kevin Davis

Park in same lot at work everyday .. take pic of u as u unlock your car ..

Kyle McKittrick
Kyle McKittrick

I needed a key for my 2000 VW. The key was $200 at dealer but found a guy online for $60 and all he needed was a picture. Both keys open all locks and igniton

JaceyCampbell
JaceyCampbell

Nice. Did online guy mail the key? So... he has your address and who knows how many copies, AND a 2000 VW for sale?

Billy Max Neitz
Billy Max Neitz

Yeah, good point. It's possible but just not probable. In the time it takes to find someone in your area who posts pictures of their keys you could break how many windows and kick in how many doors.

KeithLaFaille
KeithLaFaille

In all honesty I think someone who would try to do this would probably be versed in other surreptitious means of entry such as basic lock picking or bumping which are much quicker and require less effort. I would guess probably 95% of households and even many smaller businesses are using either standard five pin Schlage or Kwikset (or copies thereof) lock sets, both which are of dubious quality and security, especially the latter brand. Even someone of mediocre manual dexterity can learn to pick both brands after a couple days practice and then start popping those locks rather easily, even more so considering the weak bitings and lack of any sort of security pins exhibited in these brands and the ease at which they can be raked or rocked.

One's best bet is to buy quality higher end lock sets from established security oriented brands, and locks with non-standard keyways. Stay away from Kwikset KW1, Schlage SC4/5, Yale Y1 and similar common keyways that are used in the good majority of domestic lock sets. Better yet buy from brands that offer restricted keyways and blanks, and that require cards to have extra keys duplicated. At the bare minimum security pins should be installed to reduce the ease of bumping, raking, snapping or rocking a lock open in a couple seconds and increase the time it would take to pick one by hand. Even the shitiest Kwikset, Schlage or copy can be improved by an order of magnitude just with security pins.

That being said, hand filing from a picture is of course still a viable means of entry so take whatever precautions you feel are necessary when it comes to your home Security.

As an aside for anyone looking to get into picking, I feel "practice" lock setups that are sold out there are an incredible waste of money. Used Kwikset / Schlage or off brand copy lock cylinders can be had for dirt cheap online or even for free if you ask nicely at a local locksmith or hardware store that does re-rekeying, and security spool and seratted pins can be made with jewelers files by hand very easily. Spending $15 - $30 or more on a basic $4 cylinder with a groove milled in the bible is insane and something you can do yourself with a file if you really want. Yeah it's nice to see how the lock works and when the pins set but picking all comes down to feel and remember you can't "cheat" and peek on the real world.

Dean Smith
Dean Smith

Come on with it, that glock in my edc pick isn't for show.

Tim Salmon
Tim Salmon

Fantastic article. Well worth a read.

Bryan Black
Bryan Black

Thanks for sharing, Jack! Glad you like the article, it is scary how easy it is now with such hi-res photos being shared.

Teresa Welborn
Teresa Welborn

I don't understand why people post pics of their EDC anyway. Just sayin. :)

Glyn Dodge
Glyn Dodge

Yup, keys on camera. Not a good idea. It is really easy to resize the photo and with today's cameras you don't lose much resolution.

David Olson
David Olson

Locks just keep good people out at in opportune times and the occasional drunk.

Justin Butler
Justin Butler

In my years working at a car dealer, I've cut many new keys, by simply looking at the worn out one to read the code. With Dodge, there were 7 positions down the key length, with 4 possible depths to cut to. It's not rocket surgery.

Tom 18C
Tom 18C

 Hey Robert David, "For those that voice the argument, “Someone is welcome to try and copy my key, they still don’t know where I live,” consider the amount of information that is available online today". 259 E XX 174 76228 Say hello to Tammy and Derrell!Age 23 1X/ X4 / 19XX, DPS Archer County 73” 160……….Ok I understand OPSEC better than most, don't post a challenge like this to a group of gray beards, all info was gathered from open source data, no special pay-for or industry specific data base, just true open source in less than 7 minutes including this post. I think for your age, you have great insight and are on your way to being what you want to be. Drive on my friend! Significant data obscured to protect your privacy. 

Eric Jackson
Eric Jackson

I'm hesitant to even post this, but for the guys  that think this only works if the keys lay flat on a table, that's not even remotely true. There are free image analysis programs that aredesigned to measure objects even if they are tilted at odd angles, and the high contrast makes tracing easier but any contrast is enough for dimension analysis. Any uncontrollable measurement error would then get corrected by rounding to key code dimensions. From the dimensions off a forum, an image match between forum avatars and social media accounts, and some hot 20 year old sock puppet accounts, an even lazier criminal could go to a lock smith with a list of key codes, and walk out with professional copies and a list of addresses of dudes with guns, ammo, gear, preps, etc.

Mark Cullimore
Mark Cullimore

I suppose maybe in future, put electrical tape around your keys gentlemen before taking a picture?

Cameron Benz
Cameron Benz

Lol on the other hand, it's not like any KwikSet is safe anyway.

Robert Parker
Robert Parker

Anyone with the technical expertise and skill to do this is only going to be interested in getting access to extremely valuable items. Your average gang banger or meth head is too stupid to do this and most people don't own anything of value a skilled professional thief would want.

Paul Errman
Paul Errman

You have to expose your keys in a picture laying flat on the ground or table to pull it off and even then it's not easy. You have a bigger danger of someone borrowing your key for a min taking a picture of it and copying it later then someone taking it from your social media account.

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