You locked your car. You know you did, because you heard it chirp when you pushed the button on your fob. You even pushed again to hear an extra chirp just for reassurance. But don’t be too comfortable.
The advances in technology that have made car owners feel safer have also made car thieves more innovative. Here’s how.
Key hacking is an attack on electronic locking systems controlled by key fobs.
Electronic key fobs work by generating a code each time the key fob button is pressed. There are different sets of codes for different actions, like unlocking doors or opening hatchbacks. When a car receives a signal, it checks that code for a matching code to execute the action.
There are already security features built into this code system. For instance, it isn’t the same code numbers every time, as there is a list of acceptable codes for each action. To prevent theft, codes aren’t supposed to be reused.
One way key hackers have found to bypass these security features is to use an RFID transmitter. They can electronically capture the code transmitted when you push the button and hijack the number generator. The previously used codes remain valid and so the thieves can use them to unlock the vehicle without the assigned fob using a transmitter.
Another way key fobs can be hacked is through relay attacks, or signal boosting. Cars that only require you to be in proximity to the vehicle for keyless entry or ignition to work — without pressing a button — are especially vulnerable. These key fobs transmit radio signals even when not close to your car. Using relay boxes, a thief near your fob (like outside your front door) can pick up and amplify that signal, sending it to another relay box close to your vehicle. That signal can unlock and start your car, even with the fob securely inside your home.
There are ways to try to prevent these thefts from occurring, from low-tech methods like wheel clamps, to medium-tech measures like keeping vehicle software up-to-date, and even higher-level tech like signal-blocking wallets for key fobs.
However, the more sophisticated prevention becomes, the more inventive thieves become as well. So what happens when they thwart your security attempts and you discover your vehicle is missing?
The good news is, advances in technology apply to vehicle recovery as well.
Rather than hoping someone finds your stolen vehicle by its physical description only, GPS location services can help pinpoint its exact, real-time location. Not only that, you can receive alerts that someone moved your vehicle before you even notice it missing. When every minute matters, you’re better equipped to beat thieves at their own game when you use technology to your advantage.