Hacking Key Fob-Activated Cars

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For years, there have been rumors and puzzling reports of keyless cars being mysteriously broken into in some unknown manner. Last month, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) released study results showing one major way thieves have been successful in unlocking these push button vehicles and even driving them away.

NICB purchased what it termed a ‘relay attack unit’ from an overseas data security source. The group then attempted to open dozens of cars without the proper key fob.

“The NICB was able to open 19 (54 percent) of the vehicles and start and drive away 18 (51 percent) of them,” the group said. “Of the 18 that were started, after driving them away and turning off the ignition, the device was used to restart 12 (34 percent) of the vehicles.”

The unit appeared to seek out and copy the fob’s signature when the fob was inside a home or business. NICB is sharing its study results to show both law enforcement officials and consumers the very real threat. It did not, however, disclose the list the makes and models successfully compromised.

“We’ve now seen for ourselves that these devices work,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Maybe they don’t work on all makes and models, but certainly on enough that car thieves can target and steal them with relative ease. And the scary part is that there’s no warning or explanation for the owner. Unless someone catches the crime on a security camera, there’s no way for the owner or the police to really know what happened. Many times, they think the vehicle has been towed.”

NICB called on manufacturers to rapidly boost their efforts to secure keyless entry vehicles. Currently, there is little auto owners can do to prevent such thefts but officials suggest garaging your keyless car whenever possible and never leaving valuables in a locked vehicle.

The tech research group is a not-for-profit seeking ways to reduce vehicle losses and insurance fraud through research, training and public awareness. Members of NICB write over 94% of the nation’s auto insurance.

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