How to frustrate thieves who target keyless-entry cars

Not many car manufacturers separate the locking system from the immobiliser, says vehicle security expert Alex Lye.

PETALING JAYA: A vehicle security expert has advised owners of keyless-entry cars to invest in a commercially available casing for their car keys to prevent hackers from stealing their vehicles.

The security systems of such cars could easily be bypassed with tools sold online, said Alex Lye, who heads the Asian chapter of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigation.

Speaking to FMT, he said motorists should carry their car keys inside an anti-radio frequency identification pouch, which is sold online for an average price of RM20.

The pouch essentially prevents the interception and copying of security codes.

Before keyless entry became an industry standard, car thieves needed to physically disable a car’s alarm system before gaining entry, either by breaking the window or picking the lock open.

According to Lye, they can now use a tool known as a “code grabber” to hack into a car’s security system through what is known as a “relay attack” without getting their hands dirty.

Alex Lye.

Code grabbers can be bought online for between RM500 and RM30,000, depending on their capabilities.

In a relay attack, a code grabber intercepts a car’s unique security code when it is transmitted between a vehicle and the car key remote fob.

All a thief would need to do is to be nearby when someone is locking his car and use the code grabber to intercept and copy the security code. This enables him to unlock the car door with just the push of a button.

“Since almost all the newer cars use keyless entry, I believe relay attacks will become more prevalent,” Lye said.

He said the pouch he was referring to was currently the only reliable way for a motorist to prevent his car from a relay attack.

Before the introduction of keyless-entry systems, cars used to have a security system that integrated a lock and an immobiliser. Even if a thief could gain entry into a car, he would still need to disable the immobiliser.

Lye said few car manufacturers were now separating the locking system and the immobiliser, and he urged the government to require them to do so.

“The keyless entry system should activate only the locking system, and the engine should start only in the presence of the immobiliser embedded in the physical key,” he said.

In July, police claimed to have busted a car theft syndicate in Penang that targeted keyless-entry cars.