Put Keys on Lockdown to Prevent Cyber Copying

Barry Campbell
Written by Barry Campbell
Updated June 15, 2021
Digital photos and modern software allow cyber locksmiths to easily duplicate keys, even without having the original key on hand. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Cyber locksmiths can duplicate keys using nothing but photos. Is this a real threat to home security? And if so … what can you do about it?

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Keys are symbols of security. But growing concern about cyber locksmiths has people wondering if their keys could represent a photo opportunity for a would-be thief.

The idea is a simple one: Find a website that offers to cut keys using photos. Send a photo of each side of the key, along with a small credit card payment, to the cyber locksmith, and a copy of the key will be cut and mailed to you.

The fear is that someone could surreptitiously take those photos and order a copy of a key to your house.

Are cyber locksmiths a real threat?

Yes, there is a risk that your keys could be copied without your knowledge.

But it’s a risk you can avoid simply by handling your keys carefully, so that no one has the opportunity to take photos of them.

A person who has the chance to photograph your keys also has the chance to simply take them. That means the same steps that would prevent someone from stealing your keys will help prevent the keys from being photographed.

How can you protect yourself from key duplication?

Keep your keys in your pocket, wallet or purse. Treat your keys like they were a bundle of cash — a bundle of cash equal to the value of everything you have in your home.

That means:

● Don't lay your keys on the counter at the store.

● Don't leave your keys on the desk at work.

● Don't leave your keys hanging on a rack or lying on a table, even at home.

● Don't give your house keys to the technician when having your automobile serviced.

The threat isn’t confined to cyberspace

In their defense, cyber locksmiths claim that many locksmiths have the ability to “read” and duplicate a key just from looking at it.

They’re right. It’s especially true of some of the most common residential locks, which utilize only a limited number of depths in the cuts on the key. Digital photos and modern software allow the cyber locksmiths to duplicate them even more easily.

It is also true that anyone can take a key to a locksmith and have it duplicated, without proof that they have the authority to have the duplicate made.

But there’s a big difference in the time it takes to get a key copied versus the time it takes to snap a couple of pictures.

VIDEO: Who has a key to your home?

Are high-security locks the answer?

There are high-security locks that you can have installed, which use patented, restricted keys that require identification and approved authorization for copies to be made.

But this is a costly solution to a questionable problem. With the advances in 3-D printing, restricted key blanks will offer less and less of an advantage.

The fact is that any key can be duplicated. Some may be more difficult than others, but they can all be duplicated, and it is becoming easier and easier to do so. The easiest way to prevent unauthorized duplication is simply to maintain control of your keys.

Hardware store vs. locksmith keys

While any key can be duplicated, there is some value in using locks that do not use the most commonly available key blanks. Most hardware stores carry locks that use one of only two different key blanks. Worse yet, they use proprietary cylinders that preclude the use of less common blanks.

Locksmiths offer locks that use standard replacement cylinders. This means that a large variety of key blanks can be used, without going to the added expense, inconvenience and limited service options of the restricted key blanks.

Most hardware store locks also come with keys that can be readily identified. The vanity keys that are offered are normally one of the two most common key blanks.

Locksmiths can offer what are referred to as neuter-bow keys that are not readily identifiable, yet not as restricted as the patented key blanks.

Does ‘Do Not Duplicate’ work?

Unfortunately, keys marked “Do Not Duplicate” offer very little protection, especially when on common blanks. Reportedly, cyber locksmiths will copy them without question, as will many less ethical locksmiths.

Again, the best way to protect your keys from unauthorized duplication is simply to not allow anyone to have access to them.

If someone has had access, or you can't account for all of your keys, you can re-establish key control by rekeying your locks

As of February 3, 2015, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.


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