Thieves able to steal cars with key fobs and keyless start

Published: Aug. 30, 2018 at 6:06 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Key fobs are meant to make life easier for drivers. Most cars have them to unlock the vehicle. Some even go a step farther and start the car. If your car starts with a key fob, you may be in danger of having a thief steal the car.

"In the last couple of years, we began to see more evidence of not only breaking in, but people able to start the car and drive off," explained Roger Morris with the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Morris explains that "you used to be able to hotwire cars but that doesn't happen anymore with today's technology."

Morris told WKYT thieves are using something called a 'relay attack device' to intercept the signal coming from a key fob.

"A car is basically a computer on wheels," said Morris. "So once they figure out what that communication is between the fob and the computer on the car, then they've got access to the vehicle."

To see how effective the relay attack devices can be, the National Insurance Crime Bureau bought the device. They tested 35 different makes and models of cars made between 2010 and 2017. The relay attack device was able to unlock and start eighteen of the cars tested. "This device only works on cars that have a keyless remote and push-button start. It talks electronically to the vehicle. It says, 'I’m your fob.'"

Thieves looking to steal something out of your car typically do that with an amplifying device. If a fob is inside a home, the amplifying device can grab the signal and open the doors. To prevent that from happening, you can keep your key fob inside a metal box, aluminum foil, or a bag designed to protect electronics.

Trooper Josh Lawson with Kentucky State Police said, "Most likely if they're looking to make money off of it, they are stealing it to sell it in parts or trade it in to a chop shot to be sold in parts." That's the main reason the chances of getting your stolen car back are not good. "It is on the lower end of our clearance rates for thefts because of the ability to dismantle," Lawson explained.

In Kentucky, the clearance rate is just 16 percent for stolen vehicles. And still, unlocked cars or cars with keys in them are the most likely to be stolen. As for the relay attack device, it's more challenging for thieves to use because of the sophistication.

"They (manufacturers) are always in a cat and mouse game with the hackers trying to get a step ahead of them," said Morris.