As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Australia’s Best New Car News, Reviews and Buying Advice

Freezing Out Smartkey Hijackers

smartkey2Smart keys are included as standard features in the majority of new models these days.  Keyless entry all seems so simple.  You walk up to the car with the smart key fob in your pocket or your handbag and hey presto! The car door unlocks itself just like that.  With the newer models, you don’t even have to press the button.  All you have to do is to walk within a metre of the car and a wee sensor inside the car will detect the presence of the fob and its unique electronic signal.

It’s convenient, especially if you’re struggling with lots of bags or a wriggly toddler.  However, there’s a downside: they can be hacked with a fairly inexpensive device (if you think I’m going to give you the full details of exactly how to get hold of the device, you’ve got to be joking!).

These smart key hacking devices sound like something out of James Bond or possibly MacGyver and operate using a very simple procedure. Instead of messing around trying to read your radio signal and nicking the code that’s transmitted from the fob to the keyless entry sensor (something the very sophisticated high-tech car thieves do), this hacking gizmo simply amplifies the signal coming from the fob.  This means that instead of triggering the unlocking mechanism when you’re close to the car, the fob will trigger it from a lot further away. A lot further away as in over 200 metres away.

This means that when you’re sitting indoors and your keys are hanging up on the hook where they usually live, they’ll be able to unlock the car when the car is sitting on the street.  Once the car’s unlocked, it doesn’t take a crim very long to hotwire your lovely new car and whizz off with it.  You have been warned.

Is there anything you can do to foil these smart key hijackers?  The first thing you can do is to use ordinary precautions such as keeping your car in a locked garage or at least behind a locked gate if all you’ve got is a lean-to.  This means that your car isn’t about to go walkies in the middle of the night when you’re asleep with the keys sitting safely on top of the fridge.  After all, if your car is parked somewhere insecure with bad lighting, it’s still vulnerable to low-tech attacks with the help of a crowbar or a lock-pick, either of the main door or the fuel cap.

The other thing you can do, at least according to a technical writer for the New York Times, is to keep your smart keys in the freezer.  I double-checked to make sure that this advice wasn’t in a piece put out on April Fools’ Day, so it seems to be fair dinkum.  Apparently, a freezer acts as a “Faraday cage”. These block the entry of electric or electronic signals from getting to what’s in the cage.  If you’ve seen those TV shows where someone sits inside a vehicle or a metal cage with lightning zapping around them, you’ve seen a Faraday cage.  Apparently, this is how shark cages for “diving with sharks” operations work as well – it’s thought that the metal interferes with the sharks’ ability to sense your electrical signals (and solid steel protects you from bites, of course).  But I digress…

The other Faraday cage that you are likely to have in your home is a microwave.  Ordinarily, a microwave’s Faraday cage stops the radiation that cooks your food leaking out and cooking you or whatever’s in the fruit bowl beside the microwave.

Therefore, here’s a couple of handy hints for these safer storage spots:

  • If you opt for the freezer, make sure your keys are dry (no raindrops) before putting them in.  Use gloves when you get them out.
  • If you opt for the microwave, be careful not to switch it on by mistake or you will fry (a) the keys and (b) the microwave.  Put the microwave where fiddly little fingers or kitty paws can’t switch it on by mistake.

Safe and happy driving,


PS: I’ve heard that surfers and the like hate smart key systems, thanks to the habit of hiding the keys somewhere near the car while heading off into the waves.  Now you know why surfers like to drive classic old Holdens and VW Kombis – it’s not just an image thing!