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July 05, 2012

Theft Alert for NFC-Enabled Key Fobs

By Daniel Brecht, Contributing Writer

Warning! Car thieves can use the fob as an alternative to hot-wiring cars.

Nowadays, car thieves clone NFC fobs. When this happens, a thief takes over a vehicle by unlocking the door and deactivating the alarm system. Immobilizers can be controlled as well.

Key fobs, computer chip-enabled keys, have become useful for remote keyless entry (RKE) in automobiles. These car fob keys, which incorporate Near Field Communication (NFC), use a wireless non-contact system, based on Radio-frequency identification (RFID), which can transfer data from a tag (News - Alert) remotely (but in close proximity) attached to an object – in this case an automobile.

When pressing a button on the cars’ key fob, it will send a coded signal by radio waves to a receiver unit in the car. The unit will then identify the signal via one of several antennas in the vehicle’s bodywork.

Key fobs are electronically short-range operated devices (the operating range for remote keyless system varies between manufacturers) that have a control mechanism to automatically trigger a signal coming at the car owner’s request; they’re used to lock or unlock the doors, open the trunk of the car or activate a panic button or car alarm (for increased safety).

Some remote keyless fobs will also close any open windows or the sunroof of a car when parking and securing the car. Some car manufacturers have key fobs containing a push button to start the car’s engine.

Automobile owners may think they can rely on the programming of key fobs, which are performed by the automobile manufacturer, to help keep their vehicle safe and secure from thieves; they might be wrong! What seems to be a reliable device in making cars more theft-resistant might not be enough.

In fact, there have been reported cases of car thieves unlocking the code of several keyless entry devices used to open vehicles.

Fobs do not totally secure a car from being stolen by a thief; the broadcasted signal from the fob can be intercepted and stolen. Then, it could be reused to make a duplicate of the fob, reprogrammed and misused to steal one’s vehicle.

RKE devices do not make cars theft-proof. But there are a number of manufactures addressing this concern of high-tech auto theft, as a range of premium cars are targeted. Until the automotive industry develops another electronic device other than the fob or some richer transponder key remote, car owners should take extra care with who they let hold their keys, as well as use additional security devices like third-party car alarms.

Key fob technology is subjected to theft and physical interference, and might be not much safer than   a pair of car keys. Automotive key fobs do, however, make it possible for any owner to interact with their vehicle remotely, doing it automatically and much simpler without physical intervention.

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Edited by Braden Becker
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