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Keyless Entry And Ignition Not So Safe After All

Posted in Car Tech, Featured, Safety by Kurt Ernst | January 19th, 2011 | 6 Responses |

A Ford Taurus push button igntion. Image: Ford Motor Company

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.

Source: MIT Technology Review, via AutoSpies

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6 Responses

  1. Mark Smith says:

    Why is this a surprise to anybody? There are easy ways around it, but nobody cared when it was implemented so now you have a mess.

  2. Mason says:

    I’ve been trying to avoid cars with push button start, to me, there is just something more satisfying about having a key.

  3. Kurt Ernst says:

    Mark, the easiest way to steal a car is still with a flatbed truck. If a professional wants what you’re driving, it’s just a matter of time before he grabs it.

    Mason, I’m with you. Push button starters do nothing to add to the driving experience; it’s technology for technology’s sake.

  4. Sam Pack says:

    I have never used a push button before. However I read that a lot of thieves like to steal cars by towing your truck away. Benz has this anti-towing button that is supposed to prevent your car from being towed.

  5. Kurt Ernst says:

    Sam, nothing shot of using a mechanical boot on all four wheels will prevent your car from being stolen via a flatbed tow truck.

  6. Will Curtis says:

    not sure what systems are being talked about, i guess factory? I have a Digital Guard Dawg in my 2005 Avalanche, i have the keyless entry and push button start and really it makes walking up to my car with armfuls of stuff a breeze, and it is dual way digitally encrypted, kind of like wifi but with over 6 billion codes, so unless they have super encryption software, it aint gonna happen… I went with it just because of the security of their systems, plus it is set up for my Harley as well, just hop in, hop on and go..