Key fob hacking: How thieves can hack into your car and tips to stop it

"I was surprised how easy it was, an 8-year-old can do it," is how college student Ayyapan Rajesh described the process of tapping into the frequency of your keyless vehicle fob to open locked doors and even start the vehicle. He, and co-researcher and IT security expert Blake Berry, from the GitHub project HackingintoYourHeart, proved vulnerabilities in keyless entry systems for a research project at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

"Hackers and criminals are getting even more sophisticated" says Doug Shuppe from AAA, explaining that new hacking devices can amplify your fob’s signal, which means they can capture it even if you are not next to the vehicle. They may not want to take the car, but they can break in, and take anything you have in there. 

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Michael Chan, who now spends more time programming replacement fobs instead of keys at Jack’s Key Services in Upland, says some vehicles are more difficult to hack than others. "Newer, German models are using rolling codes" he says. In essence, the code changes every time the FOB Is used, so even if hackers capture the transmission, they may not be able to open or start the vehicle. American automakers are also using them on some newer models, but you have to ask the dealer. 

Other options to protect yourself include Faraday pouches, which actually block the fob signals (and also protect your credit card chip information). You can also put fobs in a metal box, while you are at home. There have been cases where people leave fobs hanging inside, but near the car, which gets broken into overnight. Wrapping them in aluminum foil may work, as well. 

Then there’s the common sense advice, not to leave anything in your vehicle that you don’t want someone stealing — whether through hacking your fob or a more old school approach like breaking a window. 

Last but not least: put a club on your driving wheel. Says Chan, "sometimes old school works well!"