Car tech news: easy remote hack prevention for Toyota Prius, Mazda 3, Lexus SUVs & more key fobs

Mystery car hacking device found by Toronto Police.
Mystery car hacking device found by Toronto Police.

Okay kids, if you are going hack a Toyota Prius on the street in Los Angeles, don’t do it to a technology writer who’s looking out the window at you, who has a trusty dog.

New York Times columnist, Nick Bilton at a party in Los Feliz learned from his neighbors said that their cars were being broken into but without window smashing or other signs of entry. One car was a Mazda 3 and another a Toyota Prius.

While he’s writing at his desk, the dog growls. He looks out the window and sees two teens, a girl and a boy on bicycles using a black box pointed it at his Prius and unlocked it. He runs after them and didn’t catch them.

Bilton found that there are many gadgets to get into cars including radio frequency fobs, either amplify the device or brute force attack the car using notebook computer.

NCIB reported that thieves using what some are dubbing as electronic “scanner boxes”  allow them to mimic the signal emitted by key fobs that open car doors with the click of a button.

Toronto Police warn that investigators from its Major Crime Unit have noticed a spike in theft of Toyota and Lexus SUVs from driveways of homes. In all of the thefts, there have been no signs of damage at any of the scenes. Investigators believe that the suspect(s) may have access to electronic devices which can compromise an SUV’s security system. Their solution is to keep cars locked in a garage.

Bilton contacted Boris Danev, the founder 3DB Technologies who suggested the girl who unlocked the car, easily, most likely used an inexpensive “power amplifier” to break into Bilton’s Prius.

The device amplifies the distance the car will search for the fob. The key fob was about 50 feet away on Bilton’s kitchen counter. Amplification devices can cost anywhere from $17-$100.

Danev notes that Research at ETH Zurich has demonstrated that it is possible to compromise the proximity verification mechanism and open cars of others, start them, and drive away with minimal effort.

To prevent such amplification, you can keep your keys in the freezer or microwave that works as a Faraday cage. There are also cases that block signals you can buy on Amazon.

nosiginalSome sources suggest a “Farady Bag” or case such as the anti-radiation, anti-degaussing, anti-signal case  bag for $10.00 or Pu Farady leather bag ($6.99) that cuts signals to the device. These of course are much less expensive than whatever your deductible is if your car is stolen. You can also keep the key fobs in the case while you are inside a Starbucks or the gym to make sure an amplifier can’t be use. The other option is to get a watch dog and keep looking out the window at your car.

Key fobs are getting easier to hack, Mission Secure remotely hacked a connected car via key fob at 63 meters.

Bilton said that another solution is to park your car in a locked garage

Has your key fob ever been mysteriously hacked? What have you done to protect your car? Let us know in the comments below.