Keyless entry and push-button start systems are all the rage these days, and are used on cars in virtually every price point. As researchers from ETH Zurich recently found out, the systems are actually less secure than the old, keyed technology, and can be readily hacked if a thief knows how to intercept and relay radio signals. The security breach isn’t limited to one or two manufacturers or models, either; researchers tested ten car models from eight different manufacturers, and were ultimately able to unlock, start and drive away in all ten.
Don’t expect tweakers and crackheads to adopt this method of car theft any time soon, as it still requires some advanced antenna and signals knowledge, and anywhere from $100 to $1,000 worth of components. It also requires one antenna-equipped thief to be within reasonable proximity (25 feet) of the car’s key fob, with a second thief (and wheel man) located very close to the vehicle with the receiving antenna. When the key fob’s signal is captured, amplified and broadcast to the thief nearest the car, it’s just a simple matter of opening the door, pushing the start button and driving off.
This is possible since a car’s key fob transmitter is constantly broadcasting a signal to communicate with the car. If that signal is eliminated or blocked, the car door won’t open and the vehicle won’t start. Expect future key fobs to come with a removable shield to block the signal, or even a simple On / Off button. In the mean time, layered security is still your best bet, as thieves will always go for the easiest target. Maybe it’s time to drag The Club up from the bottom of your closet.