High-tech key copying offers convenience but causes security concerns

Apps like KeyMe make it easy to get a duplicate key created.
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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Our locks are supposed to keep intruders out of our homes, our offices and even our cars, but could an app you may not know about put you at risk for burglary or theft?

13 Investigates shows you just how easy it is to turn a photo of a key into an actual key in this 13 Investigates Consumer Investigation: "Unlocking Security."

"Come on!" yells JoLynn Wright to her Boxers from across the lawn.

"These are part of my security," she proudly tells 13 Investigates. "My ex-husband is a police officer, so (I'm) very safety conscience," she adds.

JoLynn Wright tested keys duplicated with a mobile phone app.

JoLynn agreed to let us copy her front door keys and test the app. We stopped by and took photos of her keys to order duplicates. A week later we returned with new keys in hand to test them out.

13 Investigates ordered them on-line through an app called "KeyMe."

Just a few photographs, and three days later one key and then another arrived. They were not addressed to JoLynn, but to WTHR's Sandra Chapman.

"I unfortunately think it's going to work," JoLynn said with a nervous laugh.

13 Investigates wanted to test the app to see if the keys work and more importantly to find out what security measures are in place.

"Does it look like your key? Chapman asked comparing the newly arrived duplicate keys with the originals JoLynn held in her hand.

"I have my original. Let's see. Yep that looks the same, let's try it," she said.

KeyMe is designed to give consumers a convenient solution in the case of a lock out by adding a twist of technology to the key-making business.

At Broad Ripple Lock Service, making keys has been a family business for Liz Smith for 40 years.

"There are hundreds of different blanks. All of these, they're all different. Everything is different. Sometimes the hardest part is just finding the right blank," explained Smith.

What you start with here could make the difference between being locked in or locked out.

Each groove has its own special marking.

"I know this key will work when I cut it because I have the actual key in my hand," said Smith talking about the accuracy of the keys produced here. The idea that anyone could now just snap a photo and get a duplicate key within minutes, or in our case a few days doesn't fit the mold for Smith.

"I wonder how many keys don't work that they're sending out?" she questioned.

The wrong cut could lead to wasted time.

And based on what we found, keys could get into the wrong hands.

"Like ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends," chimed in Smith.

The KeyMe app

13 Investigates ordered duplicate keys from KeyMe for a secure office, individual homes and even a car.

What we found might cause you to take a second look at your keys and where you keep them.

Here's how it works: the key must be off the ring and placed on a white piece of paper. Then you take pictures of both the front and the back of the key, and upload them to KeyMe through the app. The system requires some precision for accuracy. It is also supposed to help prevent someone from quickly snapping photos of your keys from any angle. If you try to upload a photo that is not well-lit or at a good angle, the app will reject it and ask for another image.

But, all of that doesn't eliminate your risk if you leave keys out!

It took 13 Investigates less than a minute to scan a photo of our key both front and back.

Within five business days our first set of keys arrived.

Putting KeyMe to the test

This office key was prohibited from copying. But KeyMe ignored the “Do Not Duplicate” engraved in the key and made a copy anyway. That is in violation of company and industry policies.

One of our keys is a duplicate for a locked office.

In just a matter of moments we discovered the key worked. We got into the office.

But what about outside of the WTHR building?

Our first stop: a house.

With little effort, we're in.

Two for two. But could we keep our streak of "open houses" going?" Our third location presented some problems. After a few minutes fumbling with the key to try to open the lock, 13 Investigates declared, "We're not getting into this one!"

“I don't like the idea of somebody being able to take a picture of my keys and have a key made”

When we compared the duplicate keys with the original, it appears the grooves on the duplicates didn't go deep enough.

Back at JoLynn's house, the experiment is taking on a sobering effect.

"I don't like the idea of somebody being able to take a picture of my keys and have a key made," she told 13 Investigates.

Then came time to find out if the duplicates would get us inside.

"It works!" exclaimed JoLynn after pushing the door open and watching her dogs run out. A second copy of the key also worked.

Homeowner Reacts to Potential Risk

"It makes me feel like I need to guard my key much more closely and not leave it out in the open like I do," admitted JoLynn.

She said she often kept her keys hanging to the outside of her purse.

JoLynn's house was the second house 13 Investigates was able to access.

"Yeah, kind of disturbing," she said.

KeyMe failed to adhere to its online policy

But what's more alarming, we found KeyMe not following some of its own policies.

In some states the company will allow you to upload a car key to KeyMe. In the case of a lockout, that key can be made at a kiosk set up at certain stores with the key's digital code. Customers then physically go to the kiosk and pick up the key in person. Right now the closest kiosk to Indiana is in Chicago.

According to KeyMe policies, car keys can be made only at their Kiosks.

But 13 Investigates submitted one through the app and received a duplicate. That key not only got our crew inside the car but also let us start the ignition.

"Now I now have access to a car," revealed 13 Investigates reporter Sandra Chapman as she sat in the drivers seat.

KeyMe's Response to Security

We reached out to KeyMe with our questions about its security.

Michael Harbolt, the Vice President of Marketing told us in a statement and on the phone:

"KeyMe is the safest and most secure way to copy keys. We have made millions of keys since inception and never had a single reported instance of our keys being used in a crime."

13 Investigates questioned how anyone would know.

Copies of a homeowner's keys can be uploaded in minutes without them even knowing and KeyMe's website said it does not keep any records linking key purchases to locations.

Still Harbolt insists the company's data consisting of digital codes and credit card purchases can provide law enforcement with some information. But he refused to admit KeyMe breached its own policy by sending a car key by mail order.

"It's clear they're not checking," said JoLynn who now vows to keep a closer eye on her keys.

"Come on boys!" she yells to her dogs as she goes behind closed doors to ponder what just happened.

Ultimately it's up to your own comfort level if you use an app like KeyMe.