When I visited Los Angeles this week, I was fortunate enough to rent a brand new Toyota Prius. It’s a great car – not only does the hybrid sip gas, but it also comes with remote keyless entry standard. It’s pretty cool tech: So long as the keyfob is within a couple feet of the car, you can walk up and open the door and once inside the car start it by simply pressing a button. You never need to touch the fob.
Unfortunately, it appears that remote keyless entry also gives knowing thieves easy access to your car and the belongings inside it. The New York Times is reporting that tech-minded criminals are using an inexpensive signal amplifier device to break into locked Priuses, Mazda 3s and similar keyfob-entry vehicles in Los Angeles and other cities around the world.
Normally, if your Smart Key keyfob is within 3 feet or so of your car, it will be able to read a signal from the vehicle and send a reply, leading the vehicle to unlock itself. The device being used by criminals amplifies your car’s ability to search for keyfobs, dramatically extending its automatic unlocking range past 300 feet. That means if you park your car on the street outside your house or in your driveway, someone could walk up with one of these tiny boxes and unlock it, all while your keys sit on your kitchen table.
“It’s a bit like a loudspeaker, so when you say hello over it, people who are 100 meters away can hear the word, ‘hello,’” explains wireless device security researcher Boris Daney. “You can buy these devices anywhere for under $100.” The Times was able to find one online for just $17.
Car manufacturers are reportedly looking into a fix to the car hacking problem, which would require a chip to be installed for the car to determine exactly how far away your keyfob really is. In the meantime, police are warning owners of keyless entry cars to be extra vigilant with their vehicles. “Using a locked garage is recommended and any spare keys for (these vehicles) should be secured in a safe location,” the Toronto police urged earlier this month.
And if you don’t have a locked garage? According to Danev, you’ll want to store your keyfob in your freezer. Seriously: It acts as an electromagnetically shielded Faraday cage that won’t let signals in or out. You can also store your keys in a small Faraday bag – they’re available for purchase on Amazon for $7.95 each.
[Image credit: Toyota]