Cars with keyless entry systems are capable of searching for a wireless key fob that is within a couple feet of the vehicle, but car thieves can use a $17 “power amplifier” to boost the key searching capabilities, sometimes up to around 100 meters, and pull off a high-tech car break-in.
After almost becoming a victim of a high-tech car heist again, Nick Bilton over at The New York Times said he is now keeping the keys to his 2013 Prius in the freezer. There had been a rash of mysterious car break-ins near his Los Angeles address, including three break-ins to his own car; all cars involved had remote keyless systems that come with a wireless key fob which is used to unlock the doors and start the engine instead of using a physical key. Boris Danev … said … an inexpensive “power amplifier” (was used) to break into Bilton’s Prius.
Mr. Danev said that when the teenage girl turned on her device, it amplified the distance that the car can search, which then allowed my car to talk to my key, which happened to be sitting about 50 feet away, on the kitchen counter. And just like that, open sesame.
“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,’ ” Mr. Danev said. “You can buy these devices anywhere for under $100.” He said some of the lower-range devices cost as little as $17 and can be bought online on sites like eBay, Amazon and Craigslist.
What’s the best way to protect your vehicle if it has a keyless entry system? The best way, Danev told Bilton, is to “put your keys in the freezer, which acts as a Faraday Cage, and won’t allow a signal to get in or out.”
… vulnerable vehicles from their findings, which focused on European models: the Audi A3, A4 and A6, BMW’s 730d, Citroen’s DS4 CrossBack, Ford’s Galaxy and Eco-Sport, Honda’s HR-V, Hyundai’s Santa Fe CRDi, KIA’s Optima, Lexus’s RX 450h, Mazda’s CX-5, MINI’s Clubman, Mitsubishi’s Outlander, Nissan’s Qashqai and Leaf, Opel’s Ampera, Range Rover’s Evoque, Renault’s Traffic, Ssangyong’s Tivoli XDi, Subaru’s Levorg, Toyota’s RAV4, and Volkswagen’s Golf GTD and Touran 5T. Only the BMW i3 resisted the researchers’ attack, though they were still able to start its ignition. And the researchers posit—but admit they didn’t prove—that the same technique likely would work on other vehicles, including those more common in the United States, with some simple changes to the frequency of the equipment’s radio communications.
You might want to get a Block-It Pocket for your wireless car keys, unless, of course, you carry a freezer around with you all the time. Here’s another cheaper RF blocking bag. Or make a Faraday cage, such as with aluminum foil. Be sure to test it to see if it really works by trying to open your car with the key in the cage, box or bag.