PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — If you don’t want your car stolen, you lock the doors. But for push-to-start cars, it may not be enough, a technology expert warns.
Relay devices can be used to steal push-to-start cars by amplifying your key fob signal. Many newer cars just need your key to be inside the car – not inside the ignition – to start. Relay devices trick the car into thinking the key is inside, allowing a thief to drive away.
“Somebody within so many meters of it will have this device and it will relay the key fob’s signal to the device in the car so the car thinks that key fob is next to it and it unlocks it,” said Scott Gibson, head of Computer and Information Science at ECPI University.
Without a relay device, a person can typically unlock their car from about 30 feet away. With a relay device, the signal can be amplified anywhere from 100 to 300 feet.
“Typically these types of attacks happen in residential areas where a lot of people have their keys hanging by the door or in the kitchen, an apartment community or townhouse community where keys are typically closer to where a car is parked,” Gibson explained.
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“They can open your car and within 30 seconds to two minutes be out of your driveway with your vehicle,” Gibson continued.
Gibson said the devices were first used in Europe. In recent years, they have gained popularity in the U.S. as a keyless way to steal cars.
“You could find these devices online probably between $80 and $150,” Gibson said.
Any car with push-to-start is vulnerable, according to the Master Locksmiths Association.
Gibson said drivers with a push-to-start car could take extra precautions to avoid getting hit. You could purchase a pouch or bag that blocks your key’s fob signal. You could also put it further into your home, Forbes suggests, away from windows. Old-school steering wheel locks also help.
“You’ve got to treat it no different and protect it no different than you would another electronic device like your cell phone. It’s a computer. Smart vehicles are computers. They are connected,” Gibson explained.