Auto manufacturers have long embraced technology that can streamline the automotive experience for drivers. For example, several years ago keyless entry and ignition systems were introduced, initially on high-end vehicles before they became standard on many other models.
Keyless entry systems require a fob, which sends a signal to the receiver inside the vehicle. The fob transmits a low-frequency code to the car’s internal computer system, which engages the locks and will allow the driver to push a button on the dashboard or console to start the vehicles. The fob can be stashed away in a pocket or purse and still send the signal, which makes it convenient for drivers. Drivers with arthritis or hand injuries also may find keyless systems an asset.
Because fobs work on wireless systems, hackers potentially can intercept the fob-to-car signal. That enables a thief to not only open the vehicle’s doors, but also to potentially drive away as well. Even though the fob/car security pairing is unique and can create billions of codes, researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands and the University of Birmingham found that, by intercepting the wireless signal just twice, they could narrow down the possible combinations from billions to just 200,000. After that, a computer can figure out the code in just half an hour and unlock the car. Potentially, a thief can gather car codes as drivers enter their vehicles during the day, then return later to steal a number of cars.
Thieves who purchase signal amplifiers also pose a threat. These amplifiers magnify the reach of the fob signal so that a vehicle owner can be in his or her house with the fob, but the thief can walk up to the car and open it — even if the fob is far enough away that it should not engage. One way to circumvent this is to buy a signal-blocking pouch that can hold the key fob. Also, an old-school steering wheel or gear shift lock is an effective way to provide another layer of protection.
Drivers also should be aware of their surroundings as they approach their vehicles. Thieves may count on keyless entry systems to be able to hop into a vehicle once the owner gets within range and drive away.
Vehicle technology thrives to make driving as convenient as possible, but some features also may make things more convenient for prospective thieves.