Car thief inspecting vehicle

Car theft is a global issue that affects millions of people. In developed countries, where cars on the road are generally more advanced, a new kind of crime runs rampant: keyless car theft. Here in the Philippines, as newer cars steadily gain keyless entry technology, we’re set to face the same problem in the coming years. With that said, let’s find out how you can prevent keyless car theft.

What is keyless entry?

Person holding key fob

Keyless entry technology was first introduced in the 1980s, featured in models like the Ford Thunderbird and Nissan Fairlady. The early versions of this technology made use of a keypad mounted above the driver-side door handle. By the end of the decade, keyless systems with remote transmitters had found their way to high-end cars in the US.

The keyless remotes we know today use a short-range radio transmitter that usually works in distances of 15-65 feet. When activated, the transmitter produces a coded signal and sends it to a built-in receiver unit inside the vehicle. Later systems have used encrypted or randomized entry codes to add an extra layer of security. More advanced technology, like that seen in the Hyundai Digital Key, has enabled proximity systems in some cars. With this feature, the vehicle will lock or unlock depending on the distance of the smart key to the receiver.

How do thieves exploit keyless entry?

Despite the advertised safety of keyless systems, the underlying technology is not without its drawbacks. Some sophisticated criminals have found a way to exploit these systems using a technique known as a relay attack.

A relay attack happens when a criminal uses a signal relay device to connect to a nearby key fob and amplify its signal. By doing this, the transmitter inside the car could accept the amplified signal as valid, which would unlock the car and allow the thief to steal it.

Couple in parking lot

While certainly something to be concerned about, there are some ways to protect yourself against keyless car theft. These tips can help you thwart would-be criminals before they ever get near your vehicle.

  • Mind where you keep your key fob. If you have a habit of throwing your car keys at any random spot the moment you get home, you should think twice. The closer your keys are to your parked vehicle, the easier it is for thieves to intercept radio signals from it. What you should do is keep the key fob as far away from the car as possible. To further insulate the key against signal relay devices, you could even put it inside a tin container or a specialized anti-RFID bag.
  • Be careful where you park. In the maze-like streets of the city, it can be challenging to find a decent parking spot. Still, that shouldn't be an excuse to leave your car wherever it's convenient. Criminals are known to like secluded areas. So, make sure you park your car in well-guarded facilities, or at least somewhere you can keep an eye on it.
  • Protect your car manually. As advanced as keyless technology is, you would do well to protect your vehicle in other ways. A simple steering wheel lock or tire clamps can discourage criminals from preying on your car. You could also invest in a Bluetooth tracker like Tile or Apple AirTags. These small trackers connect to your smartphone and can let you know of its location at any time.

Keyless entry has helped advance automobile security for over 30 years, but the technology is still susceptible to savvy criminals. If you're aware of the threat and you follow the tips above, you should be one step ahead of the bad elements out there.

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