3D Printer Key Duplication Risk?

First the panic was printing illegal guns, now it's duplicating high-security keys. This story details how a 3D printer was used to make an exact working copy of a previously restricted mechanical key, describing the threat as “You can take a high security ‘non-duplicatable’ key and basically take it to a virtual hardware store to get it copied.”

While the threat exists, I think it is highly unlikely that it will ever be a common exploit:

1. 3D Printing titanium means a reproducing a single key costs $40 - $50 in raw material, not counting the labor required.
2. You still need physical access to a key... even to take a picture.
3. The vast majority of criminals are going to find other, more glaring, vulnerabilities to gain access. (Door prop, tailgating, etc)
4. If the door keeps me out, I just break a window/wrap a chain around the door/steal someone's keys... not make a high-tech copy.

I'm curious to get your thoughts on this.


A physical copy of a key can be very valuable if you require ongoing access for your nefarious activity. For a one-time only access, means like what Brian Rhodes described in point #4 are less trouble. And in almost all situations it will also be less trouble (than 3-D printing) to use mechanical means to replicate a key.

I agree about the FUD and hype trend surrounding 3D printing. The 'maker-faire' crowd loves it, and those that aren't familiar with traditional machine tools find an easy analog in desktop paper printing.

I saw a stereolithography machine demo 3D printing on a field trip at a local factory when I was in 2nd grade, over 25 years ago.

The big limitation of 3D printing is not the printer, it is the raw material. Material science has like a 300 year head start on mill bar stock and plastics compared to the exotic buckets of powder or goo a 3D printer needs. Traditional manufacturing is safe for a while yet.

This is just part of the recent trend of "3D Printer" hype, fud, and copy-cat journalism lately.

Blank keys, even for high security locks, have been pretty easy to get for quite a while. There have been guys with dremels and CNC machines, and Sally Struthers locksmith-course equipment for years that could duplicate these keys readily.

3D printers are still far from being cheap or readily accessible, they don't (IMO) change the real risk in any measurable way, especially ones that could print in titanium or similar metals.