Aug 5, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printing technology is overwhelmingly used for innocent and harmless fun, we sometimes hear voices emphasizing its negative side as well – that 3D printers are tools for criminals who can 3D print guns and even keys to break into your home. While this has always been a negligibly small portion of what 3D printing is all about, that latter option has just become a whole lot easier. For this week, a group of researchers from the University of Michigan has launched a free web-based platform that can easily turn photos of keys into 3D printable CAD models. This tool, called Keysforge, can even be used on ‘restricted’ and ‘do not duplicate’ keys.

While a perfect option for people who’ve lost a key or two in the past, this platform can also make the lives of criminals far easier. So how does it work? ‘This website demonstrates a tool that generates a CAD model of a key blank from a single picture of a lock. This model can then be 3D printed cheaply in either plastic or metal from a number of services,’ the developers write on their webpage. ‘Such a tool can be used to get around restricted keyways, a defense currently employed by locksmiths and designers to prevent a wide range of attacks including bumping, impressioning, privilege escalation, and teleduplication.’ It a nutshell, it’s as simple as uploading a jpg and ending up with a 3D printable file.

Surely, you could argue, that posting this tool online just makes the lives of criminals far easier. However, as the researchers also explain, the goal of this tool is simply emphasizing how 3D printing is changing perspectives on security. ‘We find that commodity 3D printers are able to produce key blanks and pre-cut keys with enough resolution to work in several commonly used pin-tumbler locks and that their material is strong enough to withstand the requirements to perform the aforementioned attacks,’ they write.

The Keysforge tool is only meant to illustrate what 3D printers are capable of and that typical approaches to increased security (obscure shapes) aren’t safe anymore. ‘We’ve proven that restricted keyways are no longer a defense,’ says Ben Burgess, one of the team members from Michigan. ‘We’ve shown that anyone with a 3-D printer can quickly and easily attack these systems.’

Of course, similar approaches to 3D printing keys have been made before, but this new platform is different for its ability to work on a wide array of lock system that use the regular A-2 standard of pin spacing. With knowledge of the series of depth cuts and a photo, any of those more complex locks can be overcome with the help of 3D printing. And this website just reminds us (and especially those in the security industry) that times have changed.  ‘While it is possible that this website will aid attackers, we believe there is greater benefit in demonstrating to both lock designers and the public just how inexpensive these attacks are with modern tools. In addition, allowing a larger audience to use the tool may help defenders discover particular features of keyways that make them difficult to produce with this method, further assisting lock designers that want to defend against this technology,’ they write.

In short, high security keys just aren’t safe anymore when photographed with high-powered lenses. Previous studies already emphasized that accurate photos can be taken from as far as 200 feet away. ‘3D printed keys can be used to enable privilege escalation attacks, where an attacker with access to a low-level change key can cheaply derive the master key for a system. This attack requires access to key blanks, which are difficult to obtain for restricted keyways,’ the team writes on their website. ‘In addition, 3D printing can provide easier access to bump keys and can allow restricted keyway keys to be copied, either with direct access to the original key or by taking pictures of them remotely.’

Adding more fuel to the criminal fire, the researchers also assessed how 3D printing keys is best done. Testing a variety of materials, they found that PLA filament is best for 3D printing keys, producing better results than acrylic or nylon, and not being as damaging for locks as steel. Brass would also be an option.

Fortunately, they also include warnings for security companies about how to proceed into the future. ‘Electronic locks or other non-mechanical locks (such as magnetic locks like EVVA MCS) may defend against attacks enabled by 3D printed keys, although they may have their own weaknesses. For example, electronic locks may be vulnerable to man-in-the-middle or remote code execution attacks. Active keyway designs (such as MT5) may also provide some defense against replication with current 3D printing tools,’ they explain. Bump-resistant locks and trap keyways could also offer solutions. ‘Attackers and criminals, especially the high end ones, will learn these attacks,’ says other Michigan researcher Eric Wustrow. ‘This lets consumers know what they’re buying—that restricted keyways won’t necessarily give them the best defense. And it shows lock manufacturers that they need to improve their designs.’ For more about protecting yourself from 3D printed peril, check out the research paper here.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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