The Anti-Vehicle Crime Association of Minnesota (AVCAM) is a non-profit organization formed to prevent vehicle crime through community awareness and education. Our members come from law enforcement, insurance companies and other organizations and businesses interested in preventing vehicle crime. AVCAM has no paid staff and operates solely with member volunteers. The AVCAM message is clear and succinct:  Lock Your Car.  Take Your Keys.  Prevent A Theft.
Items filtered by date: June 2013
Remote keyless entry has been around for for almost 20 years now, and has become standard equipment on virtually all new cars today. More advanced keyless systems are passive, providing access to a vehicle by merely being in close proximity to a vehicle. No digging for keys and pressing buttons. As researchers in Switzerland demonstrated recently by successfully attacked eight car manufacturers’ passive keyless entry and start systems—wireless key fobs that open a car’s doors and start the engine by proximity alone.

A new report by MIT researchers shows how an attackers can start a car using an antenna. A signal from the car is transmitted to a computerized key, which is tricked into enabling the engine ignition.

Remote keyless-entry systems use radio waves that typically are specific to a manufacturer, and the signals are usually encrypted. When your vehicle’s key fob is within 20 feet of the car, you’re allowed to transmit a signal to unlock the doors, pop the trunk, remote start your car (when equipped) or activate the car alarm. Researchers at ETH Zurich discovered that these encrypted signals are easy to intercept and trick.

The theft works by setting up two antennas, one near the targeted vehicle and one near the holder of the key fob. This equipment can usually be purchased for $100 to $1,000. The person with the antenna aimed at the owner of the key fob needs to get within 26 feet of the target. In a store, this could be a few aisles away, so as to not arouse suspicion.

Once the antenna is near the intended victim’s key fob, the key transmits a low-power signal to the antenna, which is then relayed to the antenna near the vehicle. Once that occurs, the thief can unlock the doors and drive away (if the vehicle has push-button start).

While this system may seem fairly complicated, it could catch on with car thieves because of the cost of the equipment and anonymity. However, the hack cannot start the cars with traditional keys. Today’s ignition systems are increasingly complicated and secure.

Another negative aspect of high-tech car theft is that it doesn’t leave any sign of forced entry. That could lead to problems with police and insurance companies in tracking down the criminals and filing insurance claims.

At the moment, the only effective way of preventing keyless entry hacking is to leave your key fob at home until manufacturers come up with an effective method of preventing keyless entry theft.
Published in AVCAM Blog