Key cloning: Convenience or threat?

ABC7 I-Team Investigation

Jason Knowles Image
Friday, February 6, 2015
Key cloning: Convenience or threat
The ABC7 I-Team tested new key cloning apps that make copies of keys without the owner's knowledge or permission.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There's a new reason to keep a close eye on your keys. The ABC7 I-Team tested new apps that make copies of keys without the owner's knowledge or permission.

Two of the key cloning apps say the new technology doesn't make it any easier to steal keys. In fact, they say it leave an electronic trail. But some locksmiths have concerns.

The I-Team shows you how easy it is for someone to get in your home with help from a smart phone.

We usually think of keys being made by bringing in the physical copy. But now, a smartphone and white piece of paper can clone your key.

"Someone can just come with his phone and snap a picture, see where you live later on and he has a key for your house," said Shimon Mery, owner, Nonstop Locksmith Security. "The locksmith doesn't really verify, 'Yeah, you're the right person to cut the key,' he just sees a key and cuts it."

There are new apps and websites which analyze and scan your home, office, padlock or mailbox key codes, but doesn't work with car keys. Those codes can be brought into a locksmith or shared via text and email, with other people like a girlfriend, boyfriend or nanny.

"You share it with them you cannot go back and unshare it so they have a copy of your key. So even if you let them go for many reasons they can still go and have a key copied," Mery said.

The owners of Nonstop Locksmiths in the West Loop showed us how quickly they can make a copy, after we set up a profile on the "Key Me" app and paid $9.99 for the codes.

Our I-Team intern took my office keys on my desk, snapped the pictures and went to a local locksmith. About an hour later: "I'm in!"

Key Me recently opened this kiosk in Lincoln Park, where people can make a copy using a key, or with those codes from the app.

These locksmiths aren't fans of it but they won't turn a customer away.

ABC7's Jason Knowles asks: "Are you worried that you could be giving the keys to a criminal?"

"We are but it's not, it's not really something we can control," said ?

Key Me and another service, Keys Duplicated, both say their technology doesn't increase risk of theft. They say required, user profiles discourage would be criminals from logging in.

"We have some other security checks on the back end, not necessarily to tie you to the key but to make sure it doesn't look photo shopped or fishy. If we have any doubts about the key we will email the person and say please take the picture again to make sure they still have access to the key," said Jordan Meyer, COO, Keys Duplicated.

"With our mobile app we require a credit card to purchase, user verification, it has to be an Apple-verified device and an Apple ID to download it. We also require a USPS verified mailing address," said Michael Harbolt, Key Me.

They say it's just as easy to simply steal a key and make a copy, or use other tools for sale online that can measure keys.

"People need to treat their keys the same way they do their bank ATMs or their credit cards, so we strongly recommend only sharing keys with people you trust. Understand anyone with access to your keys can make a copy at a future point," Harbolt said.

You can also upgrade to a high security lock and key which requires multiple forms of ID and won't work with those apps.

"We are not going to copy that key," said Mery.

And a "high security" key is different than a key that says "do not duplicate." According to the Associated Locksmiths of America, the "do not duplicate" message is a false sense of security because many businesses will make a copy anyway. That group also says it has concerns with the new key cloning technology, saying anyone, including a valet, can take a picture and make a copy.