(Credit: Lance Whitney)

Have you ever lost your house key or mailbox key or another physical key? Then you know the hassle and expense involved in having the locks changed. Well, the next time you lose a key, a mobile app called KeyHero may just be able to fly to your rescue.

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Available for iOS and Android, KeyHero enables the creation of a digital backup of a physical and flat key. By working with a retail store such as Home Depot, your key information is securely saved in the cloud. Lose a key that was backed up, and you can return to the store where a replacement key is generated for you based on the saved data.

Smart home technology has led to such products as smart locks. Yet most of us continue to use old-fashioned physical keys for our homes, mailboxes, and other secure places. But losing or misplacing a physical key isn't that difficult. And if don't have a spare, you're forced to buy a new door lock or hire a locksmith to replace the old one. With an app such as KeyHero, you can instead turn to a digital backup that only costs the price of a new key.

KeyHero is the creation of a partnership between The Hillman Group and Unikey Technologies. The Hillman Group specializes in key duplication technology, while Unikey designs and licenses keyless entry technology. Currently, KeyHero is supported only at Home Depot. After April, the technology will expand to other hardware retail chains. You can download and set up the app during or even after you visit your local Home Depot store to save your key but you may find it easier to do that beforehand. To get started, install and open the app. Sign up for the free account and verify your email address. Next, head over to your neighborhood Home Depot store. If you need help finding one, tap the Store Locator button in the app. The KeyHero booth and technology are situated at the store location where keys are made. The store associate may give you a pitch about KeyHero; if not, just ask the person about it.

Choose a key that you want to back up. Remember that it must be a flat key, so your car key won't qualify. A house key or mailbox key will do the trick. The associate creates a digital copy of your key, which is then backed up to the KeyHero cloud. On your end, you receive a text message asking you to download the KeyHero app if you haven't already done so. Your key data is then stored in the app where you can give it a specific name, such as Front Door Key or Mailbox Key. You can also add more than one key if you wish.

Now, let's say you lose that key and need a replacement made. Head to any Home Depot store or another retailer that supports KeyHero. Sign into the app to access your key information. After you confirm the connection through a one-time code in the app, your digital key data is sent to the machine. From there, a new key is made using the KeyKrafter key cutting machine.

(Credit: Lance Whitney)

You can share your key data with another person, such as a family member. You're then notified if anyone else tries to cut a key from your data. You can also revoke someone's access to your key information. And if you no longer need or use a key that was backed up, you can simply delete it from the app.

Okay, all this sounds convenient. But what about security? What's to prevent the wrong person from hacking into your key data, creating a key, and breaking into your home?

First, your digital keys are backed up to and stored on UniKey's servers using 128-bit military-grade encryption. Unikey's systems have never been hacked and have passed multiple security audits and reviews, according to the company. The data doesn't get decrypted until a replacement key is cut at the store. If you opt to share your key data with another person, the same encryption comes into play.

Second, your key data is never associated with a physical location. To set up an account, you're asked to provide a mobile phone number and email address but not your home address. So even if a hacker was somehow able to decrypt your key data, that person couldn't find your address through that data or through your account.

Finally, the technology uses multi-factor authentication. Cutting a key based on your key data requires that you unlock your phone and sign into the KeyHero app. You also have to physically be at a KeyHero location. The cutting machine then displays the one-time code that you must enter into the app to download and decrypt your key data.

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  1. The KeyHero app will back up and retrieve a digital copy of your physical keys, letting you get a replacement if you ever lose your key.
  2. Your key data is encrypted on the backend and requires the KeyHero app, a sign in to your KeyHero account, and a visit to a KeyHero location to cut a duplicate key.

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Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books - "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time" and "Teach Yourself VISUALLY LinkedIn."