Believe it or not, if you aren’t keeping your car keys in the freezer (or the microwave) when you aren’t driving it, you could be leaving your car vulnerable to thieves.
Many new cars don’t require a key to open the doors or start it. When you walk up to your car, the fob sends it a message. When the car authenticates the signal, the doors unlock and with a push of a button, you can start the car. Normally, the fob, which puts out a very weak signal, has to be within a meter or two of the car in order to communicate with it. When you go into your house, you would think that your car would be secure and safe. Not necessarily. There are devices that are sometimes called “Power Amplifiers” that can boost the weak signal from your key fob and allow thieves to literally walk into your vehicle. Power amplifiers are available for purchase on sites like Amazon and eBay. Here’s how they work.
Your fob is safely in your house, perhaps on a table in the front hallway. It’s far enough away that it isn’t communicating with your car. However, a thief walks by and pulls out a power amplifier which picks up and amplifies the weak signal from the key fob. The doors unlock and anything in the car can be stolen. If the thief has a key programmer and a blank key, they can connect it to the data port in the car, program a new key, and then drive away in your car in a matter of minutes, all without setting off the alarm.
So, how can prevent this from happening? You can stop your fob from sending out a signal that can be boosted by a power amplifier. Some fobs allow you to turn off the proximity feature which means you have to press a button on your fob to unlock your doors. If that’s not an option, a freezer or microwave oven with their multi-layer metal walls act as Faraday cages and trap the weak signal from your fob. You can also wrap your key fob in tin foil and then just open it up a bit when you need to get into your car. A more high tech solution is to buy something called a Faraday Bag that you can store your keys in when you’re at the office or at home.
If a thief does manage to get inside your car, you can make it harder to steal by installing an OBD lock over the diagnostic port to prevent a key programmer from being plugged into it. Many security experts are lobbying auto makers to make an OBD lock standard equipment on all vehicles.
There’s no doubt that keyless fobs and push button starters on cars are very convenient, however, they can make it easier for thieves to get into and steal your car. If you are concerned, keep your car keys in the freezer when you’re not using it.