With new technology comes new risks for motorists, and with the rise of keyless ignitions, thieves are now able to break into vehicles within seconds.
In the past, so called “puffer crimes” have involved criminals making off with a running vehicle left unattended while it warms up in the winter cold. But in a 21st century twist, the American Automobile Association’s John Townsend said high-tech bandits are increasingly targeting keyless fobs.
Keyless entry systems use low-power radio signals which can easily be intercepted or amplified by tech-savvy thieves for nefarious purposes, Townsend explained. They often involve using specialized hardware to boost the signal a key fob and a car’s computer communicate with, tricking it into thinking the key is in contact with the door or ignition when it’s actually somewhere else, like inside a nearby home.
“Thieves can amplify the signal sent by your key fob to unlock the door and break-in your car and rifle through your vehicle and steal it too,” Townsend said in a Dec. 19 news release. “It is spawning a wave of keyless car thefts known as ‘relay attacks.'”
In another twist, Interpol warns similar technology can also be used to block the lock signal from a fob from reaching the car, covertly leaving the doors open while its owner walks off. Townsend blamed keyless entry as one reason why auto thefts nationwide were at their highest in eight years during 2017.
Motorists are also leaving their keyless fobs unattended inside running vehicles to warm them in cold — a mistake Townsend said not only makes them vulnerable to theft, but could also yield a fine due to anti-idling regulations in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.
There are ways to avoid becoming a target of keyless entry hacking: Interpol suggests not leaving key fobs next to your home’s front door or windows, storing keys in an RFID box to stop a signal from being emitted, and parking in a secure area.
As for keyless fobs in cars: “Take your key fob with you, whenever you exit the vehicle. Lock your car doors,” Townsend said. “Roll up your windows and close the sunroof, which can provide a windowlike opening for auto thieves.”