It’s a growing trend lately and it has many law enforcement agencies scratching their heads. It seems like thieves are using very cheap but high-tech electronic devices to break through the keyless-entry systems that lock up and allow the start of many modern cars on the road today.
It seems to come down to the technology found in your keychain or key fob (which is the wireless keychain you carry around with you) and how that communicates with the wireless device in your car. Reports are coming in that car thieves are able to use high tech equipment to amplify the car’s wireless keyless-entry signal. From there, reports are saying that thieves are either taking anything of worth in the car and then locking it back up when they leave showing now sign of forced entry or they just drive off with your car -no scratched doors, no broken glass, and no busted ignitions–it’s a hack that’s anything but.
So all vehicles equipped with keyless entry systems (and that is now most new vehicles on the market today) emit a low-level signal that can only be detected by a key fob or keychain paired with the vehicle. When the fob or keychain is close enough to the vehicle to detect the signal (typically 20 feet), it automatically issues a command to unlock the doors and enable the push-button ignition.
The keychain (key fob) wireless codes are securely encrypted, and I’m sure that hacking this wireless signal would be difficult or impossible and so it looks like thieves have discovered a way around not having to hack into the secure wireless signal. It looks like they have found that using a pair of specially designed antennas can work as repeaters to trick the vehicle system into thinking the keychain is closer to the car then it really is.
How so you ask? Well, this type of hack and heist has already been successfully exploited by security researchers on many popular and expensive makes and models. And so you place one antenna within the 20 feet limitation of the keychain (key fob) and the second near the vehicle. The antenna near the key chain (key fob) itself receives the signals and relays it to the other antenna near the vehicle. Your vehicle then receives the key chain’s (fob) signal thinking the keychain is just outside the door and so unlocks the doors and enables the pushbutton ignition. So, essentially what thief’s are doing is hijacking and amplifying your keychain (key fob) signal.
I’m sure the next question your asking yourself is: how can I fix this security hole? Where, there is a fix, but its going to make the convenience of wireless key entry not so convenient. Essentially, you would need to somehow shield your keychain (key fob) from emitting it’s wireless pulse. So, you can take the battery out. Though, some of these key chains (key fob) still emitt a wireless pulse without it’s battery making this a ‘less than favourable’ solution.
Next, you can put the key into a container that will block its signal. They call this container a Faraday Cage. A container that will block or stop all wireless signals. Again, something you will have to carry with you at all times making it less convenient and clunky. Finally, as funny as this sounds, the cheapest and easiest way to block that signal coming from your key chain (key fob) is to put it in your freezer and have your fridge essentially block the signal. Your last option is to avoid buying a vehicle that has keyless entry (almost impossible for any new make or model on the market today) or, get your dealer to disable your keyless entry.
One must keep in mind that this kind of dilemma is bound to be more common as cars become increasingly computerized especially when technology and convenience trumps security. Early in 2015, researchers from the University of South Carolina demonstrated how two popular tire pressure monitoring systems on some vehicles could be easily hacked into which allowed them to control the vehicles breaking system.
With that in mind, this type of vehicle vulnerability should give all manufacturers pause before they add another convenience feature to their vehicles. If not, they should start thinking more like criminals.