Key fobs making it easier for thieves to access locked vehicles

PITTSBURGH — New technology is allowing car burglars to gain easy access to vehicles, even if they’re secured and locked.

Key fobs have made it more convenient for people to lock and unlock their cars. They’ve also made it easier for crooks, too.

“Car fobs are easy to defeat,” said Bob Kresson with Pittsburgh’s Empire Investigations Security.

Kresson trains corporations on how to protect themselves from hackers. He said there are two ways burglars are getting key fob codes.  One is by attacking the car’s computer system.

“The other way is, if you’re hitting it, you can intercept that signal just by walking by,” Kresson said.

He showed Channel 11 News a device that a hacker uses to grab the signal. It can be used from a nearby car, or put in a briefcase or large purse. It’s as easy as someone walking by a vehicle’s keys.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau put out an alert and is studying cases of the break-ins from all over the country.

“I believe the more we make things electronic-based to make it easier for us, you’ve got guys out there who live to defeat things that are made to increase security,” said NICB Special Agent Dave Renaud.

Sami Kamkar is one of those men. The security researcher agreed to do for Channel 11 what he won’t do for burglars – steal a key fob’s signal.

From his computer lab in Los Angeles, he programmed a circuit board, so when a car owner hit the unlock button on the fob, it intercepted that code signal. In no time, he unlocked a minivan’s door.

“It would take a sophisticated attacker, but virtually every vehicle is vulnerable to the same type of attack,” Kamkar said.

He added one trick car owners can use is to hit the key fob on and off multiple times to lock and unlock their car. That could stop thieves from grabbing the signal.

Kresson added that car owners can carry key fobs in a Faraday bag to block the signal. He stressed the importance of not leaving valuables in vehicles, or anything a carjacker could use.

“You don’t want to have things in your car that can be used against you,” he said.


National Insurance Crime Bureau --