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My car was locked, wasn’t it?

A question was recently asked about the security of today’s automotive keyless entry systems. Information seems to be circulating regarding the possibility that criminals can clone a vehicle’s key fob (keyless entry remote) and gain access to the car, if not start and steal it.

The research shows that today’s keyless entry systems are far more sophisticated than they were many years ago. However, they are not fool proof. Older systems used a single signal to communicate with a vehicle. This was activated with the pressing of a button. Today’s keyless entry systems enable the key fob to automatically communicate with the vehicle, once it is within a designated distance. This communication between the vehicle and the key fob does not require any effort on the part of the person carrying the device.

This convenience does not come without inherent risks. Criminals are reported to sometimes use signal-boosting equipment to increase the distance that the car will communicate with the key fob device. For example, let’s say you are at home and your keys are on the entry table, some 40 or 50 feet away from your car. Normally this would not be within range of your key fobs weak signal. If the bad guy were to use one of these signal boosters, they could increase the communication distance of the car significantly. This means the car will receive the communication it needs to be fooled into thinking the key fob is closer than it is. At the least, this will allow the criminal to open your previously locked car.

As seen in the CNN video below, other criminals are using technology that sends communication signals to your vehicle. The end result is their being able to unlock your car without you or your key fob being close by. For example, say the criminal is trolling the mall parking lot, sees you pull in and park. Once you are away from your car, they move in and use a device to unlock your vehicle. It is not clear if the technology these criminals are using is a clone of the communications between your fob and the car, or a sophisticated system that emits changing signals until it is successful at unlocking the vehicle. Regardless of how it works, it is working.

Luckily this ability is not within the grasp of every criminal, but it is a possibility that we need to consider and be aware of. Vehicle manufacturers are aware of these concerns and will hopefully maintain a dedication to ensuring their technology continues to evolve, so as to protect the consumer.

There is no doubt that the convenience created by the keyless entry system is a strong selling point for many vehicles today. However, we must remember that convenience and safety are on opposite sides of the scales. When we pursue more of one, we reduce the other.

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