mercedes key fob

Thieves Use a “Relay” Device to Steal a Car From a Home in England

car thief

Gone are the old days of jacking a car.  Did you see this video?  It’s insane, in my opinion.  Essentially, thieves were able to “steal” a Mercedes by using a relay device to impersonate the proximity signal from a key that was inside the owner’s house.  The issue with this is that thieves can open the car, start it and drive away.  Even when the keys are inside the house!  This is some pretty advanced thinking and technology, in my opinion.  I mean, there are a lot of cars out there that no longer require keys.  I personally love the ability to not have to use keys to start my car.  And when I use my parents’ vehicles, I struggle because I just assume I can get in and push a button.  Maybe this isn’t the best way to go?

I am not going to get into why someone might want to do this, but I do think it’s important to think about this from a technology perspective.  Especially when we are starting to move away from older and more traditional ways of doing things.  We live in a society where the “internet of things” is the norm.  We are constantly connected to our devices, but those devices are also connected to other things.  Maybe it’s just having the ability to turn on your lights, but maybe it’s something security related – like the locks on your house.

Getting back to how this works.  A “relay box” attack takes advantage of a weakness in proximity keys.  Proximity systems don’t require a key to be physically inserted into an ignition in order to unlock or start the car, instead, the car detects the presence of a key nearby and unlocks the device.  In a relay attack, one thief walks around a house holding one box, which tries to pick up the passive signal that the key emits. It’s strong enough to travel through windows or a door.  This is what scares me a bit.  Because who doesn’t keep their keys near their front door?  (Did I just give away a secret about my own home?) And even if you do have a garage, the distance is still small enough for this to occur. The relay box then transmits that signal to a second relay box, which is held near the car. The process takes just seconds and means that a car can be stolen silently, without any break-in or alarms.

key fob protector

Before I suggest a solution, let me rant for a moment.  I have been physically sitting in my car, and my keys were on my person, and my car still wouldn’t recognize the signal.  While I’m not saying this couldn’t happen to me.  I sometimes wonder if the technology to steal the car is too sophisticated for the vehicle itself?  Maybe that’s just in my case as I don’t have a Mercedes, but higher end car owners should be concerned about this.  The solution?  This might not be foolproof, but you might want to keep your keys in an RFID-blocking bag when they’re in your house.   This does seem a bit extreme, but you saw how easy it was in the video, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Also, these bags are really cheap.  I found one on Amazon that’s specifically for a key fob, and it only costs $11.95.