Disruption in Security: 3D Printed Keys

Stealth key technology leads to better security

Following long awaited developments in both mechanics and Materials Science, it’s becoming easier to print pretty much anything. 3D printing is now an established tool in design and production, from children’s toys to parts of the International Space Station. However, in terms of security, the story hasn’t been quite so positive. In a paper published last year, NYU Tandon School of Engineering suggested that the technology is incredibly vulnerable to cyber attacks which could have a ‘devastating impact’ on users. But thanks to a Swiss company called UrbanAlps founded by Dr Ajejandro Ojeda, 3D printing expert Felix Reinert and lock designer Jiri Holda, 3D printing could become an aid to security rather than a risk.

The key to the future
Today, we can use our fingerprints, faces, voices and even RFID wearables to access our possessions. Despite this, the traditional metal key is still the primary way to secure valuables. The only problem is that they can be easily replicated. In fact, you don’t even need the key itself as pictures can be converted into CAD plans. Whilst high resolution camera enabled consumer devices increase, the cost of 3D printers will go down. This means that anyone with a printer could potentially replicate a standard blade key – there are even step-by-step guides available online. This is where UrbanAlps and their Stealth Key come in. Their flagship product is built from the inside out so that the teeth are hidden from view, making it incredibly hard to copy a key from the original itself, let alone a picture. So, whilst cybersecurity considerations are still incredibly important, the company has given 3D printing an important role in future security measures. At the moment, a pair of keys and a lock mechanism costs $200. One key takes 12 hours to print, but up to 850 can be created at the same time. UrbanAlps is currently focusing on industrial customers, with plans to expand to the consumer market. But what’s so special about the Stealth Key, and what does it mean for security?

Take a look at the video here:

How disruptive is the Stealth Key?
Simply put, the Stealth Key aims to combat security threats by disrupting the common key. Thanks to 3D printing’s ability to create personalised products quickly and cheaply, the key could be rolled out to the public en masse. The Stealth Key is more than just a nifty security device – it’s a demonstration of how innovative 3D printing can change the way we think about everyday objects and find ways to improve them. UrbanAlps is an example of positive innovation – changing an everyday item that essentially everyone uses, they have provided a solution to a problem before it even becomes a real issue. This is all well and good, but it doesn’t yet solve the clear cybersecurity concerns surrounding the technology itself. If anything, it shifts the attention from the end product to the CAD plans themselves. If a hacker can get hold of the designs, the problem still remains – and potentially could get worse. Also, if a customer loses their Stealth Key, they have to undergo a complete security check, plus wait for at least a day to receive a replacement, and it’s also not completely impossible to copy the key if you have the right tech.

3D printing may have received some bad press when it comes to security, but this stigma is set to change if companies like UrbanAlps can successfully use the technology to protect physical possessions. The wider technological significance of the product is that it’s creators have predicted a risk and suggested a remedy before negative disruption can take place. The task now is to convince customers that replica keys really are a serious threat, and more so that their CAD plans are safe from cyber criminals.

Has your business suffered a physical security breach? Does the Stealth Key provide a potential solution to criminal key copying? How else could 3D printing be used to enhance security? Share your thoughts and opinions.