The New Key to Breaking and Entering

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You know that sinking feeling you get when you dig your hands into your pockets for your keys, but come out with nothing but lint? After a long hard day, nothing is worse than being helplessly locked out of your apartment. Locksmiths are expensive, often ranging from $35 to $150, and may be even more depending on your location and what time you call. App developers in New York believe they have found the solution to this problem with a new service called KeyMe.

KeyMe is an iPhone app that allows users to photograph their keys and upload them to the company’s servers. After the photo is taken, users can make copies in one of KeyMe’s five conveniently located kiosks around NYC. For the low price of $10, KeyMe customers can walk to a kiosk, wait 30 seconds for a brand new key, and then return home. To me, the idea sounds pretty clever: creating a cloud that you can upload your key to, and providing stores around the city that can cut them for you in a matter of seconds. There are absolutely no flaws in that, right?

Wrong. Andy Greenberg, a reporter for WIRED, wrote a step-by-step account of how he was able to copy his neighbors key without him noticing, cut a copy at a nearby KeyMe kiosk, and later “break” into his house. Greenberg says:

Such services also enable jerks like me to steal your keys any time they get a moment alone with them. Leave your ring of cut-brass secrets unattended on your desk at work, at a bar table while you buy another round, or in a hotel room, and any stranger–or friend– can upload your keys to their online collection.

While it’s convenient for those of us who frequently forget our keys, the app also poses some alarming security risks.

Greenberg is absolutely right–now that I know there is an app out there that can create a copy of my key, I think I’ll find it extremely hard to trust anybody with it. No more throwing down the keys to my friends to let them in, no more hanging them at the door, and certainly no more trusting valets. Unfortunately, KeyMe allows the most simplest of simpletons to become a thief, and I can’t blame them–it’s far too easy. From what I can tell, Greenberg has been the only person to admit to using KeyMe to break into someones house, but that will probably change as soon as KeyMe gains traction.

The app also has the potential to wipe out the locksmith industry entirely. Much like what Uber is doing to the taxi business, KeyMey’s user-friendly and convenient service may have the ability to disrupt the market. As more and more services shift to mobile devices, one can imagine of the possibilities to come in the near future. The recent trend toward mobility and instant gratification may also have a negative side; are services like KeyMe causing people to sacrifice security for convenience?

Greg Marsh, CEO of KeyMe, told WIRED that, “digitally reproducing keys is safer than other methods because it leaves a digital trail with KeyMe’s account information, credit card records, and its kiosk fingerprint scanners.” While those are all very valid points, Mr. Marsh, I hadn’t heard of KeyMe until a couple of days ago. If I were robbed I would assume it was done the old fashioned way–by picking the lock or breaking a window. The last thing I would think is that someone took a photo of my key, copied it at the Rite-Aid down the street, and then waltzed through the front door to rob me blind.

Marsh’s advice to his future users is “to be prudent with where they have their keys and store them, similar to a password.” This is pretty obvious advice–even before the introduction of KeyMe, criminals still had the ability to steal a key, copy it, and return it before the person even noticed. But KeyMe just made it simpler for them–instead of going through the trouble of copying the key or stealing it, they merely have to take a picture. With a click of a button you now have access to someone’s valuables. All I can say is that KeyMe might be facing a lot of lawsuits in the upcoming years.

Trevor Smith

Featured image courtesy of [Moyan Brenn via Flickr]

Trevor Smith
Trevor Smith is a homegrown DMVer studying Journalism and Graphic Design at American University. Upon graduating he has hopes to work for the US State Department so that he can travel, learn, and make money at the same time. Contact Trevor at



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