Security is about time delay, 3D printing might have just outpaced yours


Current and advancing 3D scanning and printing technology allow individuals to copy high security keys quickly, inexpensively and without trace. This has created a significant security exposure for organizations accountable for the protection of high value assets and critical infrastructure, particularly for oil & gas, power plants, ports and airports, governmental and military facilities.

This exposure is amplified for those organizations required to distribute keys to a wide range of staff managing the assets. Key copy protection solutions, patents and the limited availability of specific key blanks were effective measures of the past. However, recent 3D technology developments have just outpaced them. It is now dreadfully simple for a group with criminal intent to penetrate organizations, departments or agencies, gain access to high security keys and make unauthorized duplicates which can then be made available online to anybody. They can employ readily available consumer level imaging and 3D printing devices and leave little trace. In the current climate of terrorist threats, this entails not only a significant commercial exposure of high value assets and liability, but a severe danger to public safety.

This is no thought scenario. Security guards at power stations, cleaning staff at airports or electricity network contractors, all have temporary access to high security keys, all might have made an unauthorized copy. The skills and equipment required today are no longer cutting edge. A budget home 3D printer plus an online scanning application and centuries of mechanical developments are rendered ineffective. Furthermore, the digital nature of the 3D files magnifies the security exposure exponentially by enabling internet based sharing of the compromised keys or even their underground commercialization to any interested bidder. With the leak of the TSA locks master keys being one of the most infamous examples and still available for download by anyone with access to the internet.

Often some of the complex security systems employ a range of high tech, digital approaches to security and access control – embedded chips, fingerprint readers, iris scanners or RFID. Indeed, electronic solutions offer higher levels of entry flexibility and convenience, as for example entry logs, time managed entries or even key banning. They will most likely also add a longer time delay to an unauthorized entry. However, electronics are seen as expensive, power hungry, not as reliable as mechanical solutions and, most importantly, an additional source of digital vulnerabilities which may even be accessed remotely. A very recent public case, although not particularly high security, would be the cyberattack of the four-star Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt in Austria, where its room keycards were rendered ineffective until a 1’500€ ransom was paid. This was not an isolated incident, but the fourth suffered by the hotel which finally decided to switch to mechanical keys and make the case public. One wonders how many of these cases remain unreported.



UrbanAlps, a Zurich based company, has resolved the critical issue of unauthorized 3D key duplication with an unexpected approach. Their patented Stealth Key: a key which hides most of its mechanical security features internally – rendering the key unscannable. The key is made by 3D metal printing and has no electronics, nor magnets, just secure and reliable mechanics. For millennia keys have essentially been sheets of metal with dimples, cuts and grooves, today thanks to 3D metal printing, the mechanical security key is turned inside out. Externally, all keys employing Stealth technology look identical, inside they hide extensive master keying possibilities. Illegal duplication is much harder and requires both skilled workforce and very expensive equipment. The keys are made of Titanium with a great customer appeal, strength-to-weight ratio and durability.

The Stealth Key can and is being used in conjunction with electronic solutions, with its core benefit being its stand-alone security and duplication resistance, independent of any digital integration. The demand continues to rise and UrbanAlps is currently engaged on several critical projects in Europe to update vulnerable security infrastructure with Stealth Technology. Their main customers being organizations that have understood the importance to stay up to date with technological developments and be proactive in their response.

Overall, the Stealth Key represents a breeze of fresh innovation for an industry which is struggling to adapt to new technologies by using its same old tools and which might be witnessing the emergence of a game changing species of high security keys.

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