Key fob dangers… and how to prevent them.
Electronic key fobs, though certainly not new, are one of the best car technologies out there. Instead of using a key, you unlock your car by the click of a button. In some cars, just standing near your car will unlock the doors; in some, it may start the engine too.
There have been a spate of news stories lately about how keyless tech and even just garden variety keyless unlocking mechanisms—those unlock buttons that have been around for over fifteen years—increasingly places drivers at risk. From malicious hackers to crafty criminals, we’re learning it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to replicate the electronic signals that come from a key fob.
How come we’re just hearing about it now?
Keyless tech works by creating a unique algorithm which your car responds to, whether it’s unlocking your car or starting the engine. The relationship between each car and their corresponding fobs is unique and they can create billions of algorithms. Think of it this way: imagine if the password to your Facebook was constantly regenerating and only you had access to every new instance of a password, each one different from the last. Well, the technology your key fob uses is sort of like that, but a lot more complicated.
Sounds pretty secure, right? It would take a lot of work or some serious social engineering to crack a code that worked like that… or so we thought. Apparently that system isn’t as secure as everyone assumed it would be. A recent discovery showed that if you intercepted the wireless signal from your key fob to your car only two times, it would narrow down the possible combinations from potentially billions to approximately 200,000. If you have the right tech—for example, let’s say something a hacker would have access to (easily acquired online)—the code, the signal sent between your key fob and your car, could be cracked in something like 30 minutes. Voila: a criminal can enter your car.
And that’s not all…
Newer model cars especially have always-on fobs. As long as you’re a certain distance away — anyone can open your car. The car will think it’s you. Car manufacturers are fixing that, changing the distance from several feet to only one.
There’s a catch, though.
Think you’re safe with a 2015 or 2016 model car? Amplifiers help criminals and hackers pick up signals up to 300 feet away. These aren’t rare or expensive either. And if you’re stealing a $40,000 car, the $100 or less investment on an amplifier is well worth it.
Luckily, now that we’re learning about these issues, we’re able to put an end to them. Here’s a short list of tips and tricks to protect you and your car:
– Purchase a signal blocking devices for your key fob
– Place your key fob in the fridge or freezer — the metal from the refrigerator will block the signal. A microwave also works, but obviously, be mindful not to turn it on.
– Wrap your keys in aluminum foil.
Making it more difficult should discourage criminals… why fuss around when someone else won’t be as careful?