Remote start systems very susceptible to hacking

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Remote key

Remote entry and remote start systems are susceptible to hacking and it might be easier than one might think. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Remote start systems are quite the convenient thing to have, but there is something which should give owners pause. Remote start systems are susceptible to hacking and are apparently much easier to get into than some people realize.

English thieves making short work of late model BMWs with remote start

A rash of car thefts in England is being reported as thieves are making off with a number of late-model BMW cars, using the remote start systems. According to the BBC, cars with remote start systems have an on-board computer that can reprogram a blank key fob to work as a key.

The function is intended to authorize and program a new key fob for the owner, in case they lose theirs or need a spare. Usually it’s done at a shop.

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However, according to the Daily Mail, “on-board diagnostics bypass” tools can be purchased online, usually through China or Eastern Europe, for less than 20 pounds (about $30) that basically hack the on-board computer that controls the remote start/remote keyless entry system. In a couple minutes, a blank fob can be re-purposed into the new key, making short work of stealing a very expensive car.

Manufacturer aware

BMW, according to the BBC, has been aware of the situation since August 2011, when it was notified of the first thefts of this kind. The company asserts that no cars made after September 2011 are susceptible. However, they also told the BBC that despite many makes of cars being susceptible to this kind of theft, car companies aren’t doing anything wrong and that they are definitely not “legally obliged to take any action.”

Hopefully the issue is solved, otherwise nearly every BMW, Houston, Tx., to Seattle, Wash., and all points in between is at risk. As is every car that has remote keyless entry, anywhere.

Remote starters are susceptible

This isn’t the first time the idea of car hacking has been brought up, though not necessarily hacking the on-board key fob computer. Researchers in Switzerland, according to Kicking Tires, found a method of hacking the remote start system last year by placing antennas near the car and the driver holding the keyfob. This intercepts the key fob’s frequency, hijacks it, transmits the signal to the antenna near the car and tricking the system into opening the doors.

It won’t remote start the car, so anyone with a remote entry or remote start system requiring the key be on the driver’s person won’t have their car stolen, per se, but their stereo or other valuables might be. The equipment can cost as little as $100.

Also, according to CNET, presenters at a Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, in August 2011, found a way to hack remote unlock/remote start functions on smartphone applications, as some cars come equipped with such a program. Those programs work by sending a signal from the phone to a service center which transmits it to the car. The two presenters hacked the signal using a cell phone and a laptop, duplicated it, and remote started a car.

They refer to it as “war texting,” according to TG Daily, but the implications are fairly ominous as air traffic control and utility systems use similar networking schemes. Other car hacks have been done before, such as in 2010 when a University of Washington professor hacked into a diagnostics network, operating door locks and even turning off the brakes.

Sources

BBC

Daily Mail

Kicking Tires

CNET: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13746_7-20085131-48/remote-unlock-and-start-for-cars-hacked/

TG Daily: http://www.tgdaily.com/security-features/57688-hackers-unlock-car-via-text


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