THE TSA is learning a basic lesson of physical security in the age of 3-D printing: If you have sensitive keys—say, a set of master keys that can open locks you’ve asked millions of Americans to use—don’t post pictures of them on the Internet.
A group of lock-picking and security enthusiasts drove that lesson home Wednesday by publishing a set of CAD files to Github that anyone can use to 3-D print a precisely measured set of the TSA’s master keys for its “approved” locks—the ones the agency can open with its own keys during airport inspections. Within hours, at least one 3-D printer owner had already downloaded the files, printed one of the master keys, and published a video proving that it opened his TSA-approved luggage lock.
Those photos first began making the rounds online last month, after the Washington Post unwittingly published (and then quickly deleted) a photo of the master keys in an article about the “secret life” of baggage in the hands of the TSA. It was too late. Now those photos have been used to derive exact cuts of the master keys so that anyone can reproduce them in minutes with a 3-D printer or a computer-controlled milling machine.
“Honestly I wasn’t expecting this to work, even though I tried to be as accurate as possible from the pictures. I did this for fun and don’t even have a TSA-approved lock to test,” writes Xylitol, the Github user who published the files, in an email to WIRED. Xylitol, who noted that he was based in France, declined to reveal his real name. “But if someone reported it that my 3D models are working, well, that’s cool, and it shows…how a simple picture of a set of keys can compromise a whole system.”
Though Xylitol had warned Wednesday morning that he hadn’t tested the CAD files, Montreal-based Unix administrator Bernard Bolduc showed just hours later that the printable files worked as advertised. Bolduc says he printed one of keys in five minutes on his PrintrBot Simple Metal printer using cheap PLA plastic and immediately opened one of his TSA-approved luggage locks.