In 2015 I first warned you of the dangers of cars being able to be stolen by hacking remote fobs when I wrote about the story of the theft of a Jaguar automobile valued at more than $123,000 right from a Jaguar dealership in Auckland, New Zealand.  The thief apparently walked right into the dealership and drove the car off the lot although no key was in the car and the car was locked.  The reason the thief was able to do this was that this Jaguar, like many cars, uses a wireless key fob to both lock and unlock the car as well as start the engine.  The device used by the thief to accomplish this is readily available for purchase online.  Although this story may seem unusual, in fact, thousands of cars are stolen each year using this technology. in fact as long ago as 2006, David Beckham’s BMW X5 was stolen using this technology.

Cyber car thieves manage to steal cars by using a power amplifier which they can buy for as little as $17 which can pick up the signal from your key fob from as far away as three hundred feet.  They then capture the information and use it to unlock your car and start the engine.

This security problem should have come as no surprise to automobile manufacturers, as researchers Roel Verdult, Baris Ege and Flavio D. Garcia published a paper entitled, “Dismantling Megamos Crypto:  Wirelessly Lockpicking a Vehicle Immobilizer” and responsibly notified manufacturers of this problem in 2012.  The Megamos Crypto system is a commonly used key fob security system.

TIPS

So how safe is your car if you use a wireless key fob?  Since there are actually a number of different ways by which your key fob may be vulnerable it is hard to tell.   For such a high tech crime, one of the best solutions, which is decidedly low tech, is to wrap your key fob in aluminum foil which will block the signal from your key fob from being picked up by a cyber car thief.  Then unwrap the key fob when you use it to open your car.  People who want something a bit more stylish and durable can buy any of the many small key fob holders specifically designed to block attempts to hack the key fob.

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