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Concerned About Smart Key Hacks Try Storing Them in the Fridge

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【Summary】Cars with smart features, such as keyless-entry systems, are staggeringly prone to wireless hacks. In order to compromise a vehicle, thieves could theoretically initiate a relay attack by amplifying the car’s signal and tricking the car into unlocking its doors even though the actual key is far away.

Original Michael Cheng    Oct 17, 2016 6:25 PM PT
Concerned About Smart Key Hacks Try Storing Them in the Fridge
Michael Cheng

By Michael Cheng

Cars with smart features, such as keyless-entry systems, are staggeringly prone to wireless hacks. In order to compromise a vehicle, thieves could theoretically initiate a relay attack by amplifying the car's signal and tricking the car into unlocking its doors even though the actual key is far away. This is just one of many ways to break into a smart car without physically entering the vehicle. 

According to a report published by ETH Zurich, a technology focused educational institution, 10 car models from eight well-known automobile manufacturers are susceptible to this type of attack. The main issue with smart car hacks is their nascent nature. Simply put, there isn't enough data available to predict such occurrences.  

"But we hear increasingly from law enforcement agencies that we work with that there are more and more cases like this," explained Carol Kaplan, director of public affairs at the National Crime Insurance Bureau. "One problem is that it's very hard to prove that a car has been broken into by using this method. There's no evidence left behind, no broken glass or scratches on your car. All you know is that you come back, and your stuff is gone."

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Storing Smart Keys in the Fridge

Without effective solutions against crippling hacks, a thorough approach must be taken to avoid the possibility of smart car attacks. That's why the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation recommends storing smart key fobs in refrigerators. When stored inside the fridge, the signal between one's car and key cannot be intercepted. It is important to consider that exposing batteries and other parts of a smart key to low temperatures for long periods of time may damage the device. If you're planning to apply this anti-theft method, it might be worth scanning through the official manual to check the unit's operating temperature threshold. 

"It sounds strange, but it makes sense," said Jari Tiiainen of the National Bureau of Investigation.

To date, there has not been any reports of car theft involving smart keys in Finland. However, in other parts of Europe (such as Sweden) and the United States, such cases are becoming increasingly common. Earlier this year, a group of security researchers uncovered a bug that compromised over 100 million Volkswagen smart keys. To exploit the flaw, a criminal could hack the signal coming from the key using radio equipment and emit a replicated signal to the target vehicle. Similar vulnerabilities have been around since 2011.

Other Options

If you're concerned about damaging your car keys in the fridge, which you should be, there are other options available that are safer and doesn't involve cold temperature storage. You could utilize a Faraday bag to prevent signals from being intercepted out in the open. Such contraptions are mostly used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to secure data in portable devices. They are capable of blocking specific GPS bands, cellular networks, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. 

Alternatively, you could wrap your keys in tin foil. This method originated from conspiracy theorists concerned about the government's mind-reading capabilities. Out of the two options, the Faraday bag is probably more reliable. These days, you could get one for around 10 bucks.


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