A determined car thief equipped with a few electronic (readily available) gizmos and a head for tech would really not find that the hurdles presented by your car safety measures were such a deterrent. That’s what researchers from Switzerland have found out. They took up popular cars from several manufacturers and found that the fact that those cars were all computerized made it easier than ever for tech-minded thieves to break into them. For instance, while keyless entry and start systems were exclusive to the Mercedes-Benzs and the BMWs at first, they are an option on lots of regular mid-range cards today. With a keyless car, you just get a device with a radio chip instead of a key. You put it in your pocket; when you get close to the car, the car senses the radio waves from the chip, and opens the door and starts the car for you. It can be a great convenience when you have your hands full. To the car thief of today, it can make your car as open to him as it is to you though. All he needs are a couple of $80 antennas from some tech store and the requisite audacity. Opening the car door and getting the car started will present him with no problems.
So how do the thieves actually do it? Your car’s keyless entry device basically, emits radio waves to control your car safety system all the time. But since it’s a very weak signal, it only works when you’re very close to the car. When a thief sets his sights on your car, he follows you around for a while, and then when you park your car, shut the door and leave, he whips that antenna out and shadows you. He shadows you because he wants his gizmo to catch the radio waves sent out by your keyless entry device, amplify and send it out to your car. The car catches the amplified signal, thinks that you are close by, and opens the door. He can even do this when you’re quite far from the car. He just needs to rope a thug friend in with another relay antenna halfway between himself and the car. It’s that simple. Some car thief somewhere must have tried this out one day for fun and been really impressed with the results – the way bicycle thieves found out ten years ago that all you needed to do to open a Kryptonite bicycle lock was to jam a ballpen in it.
So what do you do to protect yourself? It usually takes a new product a trial in the real world to have a security flaw pointed out. If you are looking for something really foolproof in keyless car safety, there is nothing you can do until manufacturers improve their systems.
Photo by anniejay