S’porean drivers, beware: Keyless cars getting hacked into in Malaysia

Technology pros and cons.

By Guan Zhen Tan | February 13, 2018

Recently, there has been a spate of cases in Malaysia where people are breaking into keyless cars with remote devices.

While it’s alarming (pun intended) that thieves are evolving with technologically-aided methods, it’s also scary to know that such devices are easily bought online or in some electronic stores for cheap.

According to The Star, the devices retail for about RM150 (S$50).

A quick search online reveals that they can be bought much cheaper online, like this portable RollJam device that retails for USS30, which is approximately S$40.

How does a keyless car get hacked?

Gif via GIPHY

Often, these devices hack into a car’s using its radio frequency identification (RFID) information.

These devices can hack into your keyless cars in two ways:

  1. The device copies the rolling code from your key fob (the thing with the button you use to unlock the car), effectively duplicating the unlock function;
  2. The device directly “attacks” your car to make it respond with a rolling code, allowing the hacker to crack it and gain access to your car.

What’s scary is that hackers have demonstrated that it not only can unlock your car and start your engine, it could potentially lock you in or even kill your engine while driving.

How prevalent is it?

While the number of breaches using keyless technology leading to crime aren’t readily available in Malaysia, it’s been recognised as a growing threat.

An interviewee in The Star article claims that five other friends lost their vehicles within two months of his car being stolen.

Some of the cars reported to be susceptible include certain models from Audi, Ford, Toyota, Hyundai, Renault, Mini Cooper, Nissan, Mercedes, and BMW.

Jump in car theft statistics

RAC Ltd, a British automotive services company has seen a 30 percent increase in car theft cases in England and Wales, from 65,783 vehicles in 2013 to 85,688 in 2016, which they believe is in part due to such high tech hacking methods.

What can I do about it?

There’s no uniform software fix as yet for this issue.

But, of course, completely avoiding travelling is the silliest solution to such a problem.

Here’s some preventive advice that might be more practical for your keyless car:

  • Use anti-theft devices such as steering locks, immobilisers, motion sensors and top-grade alarms.
  • Keep your keys away from windows, and doors. Alternatively, you may want to invest in a Faraday pocket, which keeps wayward signals from trying to connect with your key fob.
  • Doing things a little traditional is plenty fine. Old-fashioned physical locks may discourage the thief as it would take a longer time to hack the car.
  • In case of a successful theft, having installed a tracking device beforehand in a vehicle would assist in the investigation and nabbing the thief.

Top image via kaboompic on Pixabay 

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About Guan Zhen Tan

Guan Zhen is a serial doodler with multiple pens with her wherever she goes. She loves listening to Visual Kei bands, Jamiroquai and random songs from the future-funk genre.

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