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Car Thieves Hack Remote Keyless Entry Systems with $17 Device

by Fox Van Allen on April 20, 2015

Toyota Prius Smart Key (keyfob)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]


Car Tech & Safety, News, Travel & Entertainment, Blog

Discussion loading


From Jeremy Cox on May 20, 2015 :: 1:43 am

Hi Fox,

Did you know that makes a super cool faraday cage for your keyless entry fob to stop this kind of hacking?




From Kristian Alekov on June 10, 2015 :: 3:49 pm

That’s not a Faraday Cage, it’s a static bag for $7.95.  Hope no one falls for this scam and buys this advertised product thinking it would prevent someone from stealing their car.  You might as well use a ziplock or a sandwich bag, it would have the same effect on your keyfob lol



From Don on August 06, 2015 :: 12:06 pm

With all the stories telling us that remote keyless entry (RKE) hacking systems are now in the hands of the most common of criminals for around $20 investment, the obvious question isn’t how to shield your keys from an amplifier, the obvious question is how can you disable the RKE interface for your car and go back to the good old physical key entry only. Is there a fuse we can pull, a wire we can lift in most cars that makes all the key fobs non-functional and requires then we stick the key in the door? I don’t drive a keyless car so I need the key to start the engine already, how do I disable the remote door lock/unlock feature?
Garage doors all have a “lock” feature that can be used to prohibit the remote opener, why don’t cars?



From Josh Kirschner on August 06, 2015 :: 5:47 pm

Your dealer should be able to tell you how to disable the remote entry system, if possible. If your car requires a key to start, then there really isn’t much risk here, other than someone potentially being able to enter your car. And, if you already have a key for your engine, chances are that works the door locks, too, so you should just be able to use the key to enter manually.



From webbrowan on March 09, 2016 :: 2:22 am

I have driven a keyless car before and it was really convenient especially when you are alone and have a lot of things in your hand to carry. However, it is not surprising that the system could be hacked due to it being digital which means it can be connected via a separate device from the outside. Hence, there are always pros and cons to any given situation.



From Francisco on September 06, 2016 :: 1:39 pm

If the aluminium bag is not a faraday cage, what should we use then? I mean the keyless entry used by many new cars.
The fobguard case seems to be a good solution to protect your keys. Same as the nasafes stuff. Seems to be this folks knows something about shielding. As you can see on their webpage
Should i wrap my car key into aluminium foil, really?



From Walt on November 02, 2016 :: 12:49 pm

I’m not affiliated with ID Stronghold, but have purchased some of their products and I have seen third party testing of how impressive their shields work.

They make a key fob bag that I would trust:

BTW: A freezer will not act as a Faraday cage.  The door is not a continuous electrical connection.



From Mark Jones 523 on July 02, 2018 :: 9:44 am

This new Kickstarter campaign tackles this exact problem.


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