Thieves are always trying to stay one step ahead of honest folks.
The latest wrinkle involves walking up to vehicles with keyless entry and unlocking them as if they had the owner’s key fob.
These automotive break-in artists are using what is essentially a handheld amplifier that makes the vehicle’s electronic locking system think the key fob is right next to it, when in reality the keyless transmitter is sitting in your house or business 100 feet away.
A fellow automotive writer, Nick Bilton at The New York Times, has had his car broken into this way multiple times recently as have some of his Los Angeles neighbors.
Bilton did a lot of research to figure out how this was happening. He finally talked with Boris Danev, a founder of 3db Technologies, a security company based in Switzerland.
Danev specializes in wireless devices, including key fobs, and has written several research papers on the security flaws of keyless car systems.
Danev says the young thieves likely got into the car using a relatively simple and inexpensive device called a “power amplifier.”
He explained it like this to Bilton: In a normal scenario, when you walk up to a car with a keyless entry and try the door handle, the car wirelessly calls out for your key so you don’t have to press any buttons to get inside. If the key calls back, the door unlocks. But the keyless system is capable of searching for a key only within a couple of feet.
Danev said that when the thief turned on the device, which cost less than a $100 online, it amplified the distance that the car can search, which then allowed the car to talk to the key fob in the house.
Voila! Unlocked doors. No broken glass. No alarm.
So how do you prevent your truck or car from being fob-jacked? “Put the fob in the freezer, which acts as a Faraday Cage, and won’t allow a signal to get in or out,” says Danev.