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Thieves Are Using “Mystery Gadgets” To Electronically Unlock Cars And Steal What Is Inside

Key Fobs - Photo by ReplaceRemoteAll over America, criminals are using improvised electronic devices to electronically unlock vehicles and steal whatever they find inside.  These “mystery gadgets” reportedly recreate the same signals that the key fobs that so many of us carry around send out.  As you will see below, footage is popping up nationwide of thieves using these “mystery gadgets” to remotely unlock car doors and disable alarm systems.  Once a car has been unlocked, it takes these thieves just a few moments to take what they want before leaving without a trace.  This is now happening all over the country, and authorities do not know any way to prevent it from happening.  For now, the most common piece of advice that police are giving to people is to not leave any valuables inside your vehicle at all.

When reports of this sort of crime first came out, even car manufacturers were totally stumped.  Nobody could figure out how this was happening, and CNN startled a lot of people when they started reporting on this.  The following is an excerpt from one of those reports

Police across the country are stumped by a rash of car thefts. In surveillance video of the thefts, criminals appear to open locked cars with a mysterious handheld device.

Nobody, not even the car manufacturers, knows how it works.

In Long Beach, Calif. The man walked up to the car, and used a small box to open it. Right next to him another man, also using a box, opens that car.

The problem is they’re thieves without keys. Now they’ve swiped all valuables from the cars.

In Chicago, it was the exact same scenario. A man by a sedan unlocked it without a key. The alarm was disabled by some mystery device.

Video of the entire CNN report is posted below…

Did you know that this was happening?

I certainly didn’t.

But it has apparently been going on all over the country.

For example, similar reports of “high-tech wireless thievery” have also been reported in New Jersey

Police in Galloway Township, New Jersey are looking for the thieves who’ve been breaking into cars.

It’s happened about 30 times throughout the township, and this isn’t a matter of a bandit busting a window. This is high-tech wireless thievery.

In those cases, police believe that a device similar to the ones that CNN was describing was being used…

“These thieves are using some sort of RF [radio frequency] device, which is sending an electronic signal toward the vehicles, unlocking the vehicle and disabling the alarm as well, allowing the thieves to enter the vehicle and remove valuables without being detected,” said Detective Ryan Goehringer.

And check out what happened up in Canada just a few days ago

Vicky Mackie and her friend are both certain she locked the doors of her 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan before going to a friend’s apartment.

“She confirmed that she heard me lock my door; we actually heard the alarm beep to confirm that,” said the Vancouver woman.

They were only gone for a couple of hours, but when they returned Mackie discovered that her car had been broken into – her phone and sunglasses missing, the papers in the front glove compartment scattered on the floor – in spite of there being no signs of forced entry.

Once again, police believe that a high tech “gadget” was involved.  In fact, there are some that believe that one of these gadgets can be purchased online for as little as 5 dollars

All indications point to a new device in the growing high-tech arsenal of car thieves, one that mimics a car’s keyless entry system, illegally unlocking any door with the push of a button. The gadget can reportedly be purchased online for as little as $5.

And this could only just be the beginning of a major high tech crime wave.

Thanks to all of the “technology” that is in our vehicles these days, they are potentially more vulnerable to hackers than ever.

According to ABC News, researchers have found that hacking into onboard computers and remotely controlling vehicle behavior is not that hard to do…

The possibility of this even stranger and more dangerous crime is lurking on the horizon. Most modern cars use computers to control everything from engine compression to cruise control, airbags and brakes. Those computers communicate with each other on open networks. Using an $80,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), two researchers recently hacked the onboard computers of a Toyota Prius and a Ford Escape SUV.

They made the Prius accelerate and brake, as well as jerk the wheel while traveling at high speeds. They managed to turn the Ford’s steering wheel at low speeds and disable the brakes, which caused researcher Charlie Miller to drive the SUV into his garage and totally destroy his own lawnmower. This is the stuff of nightmares.

So could this kind of hacking have been involved in some of the very unusual “car accidents” that we have seen in recent years?

I am just asking the question.

Most people assume that all of this high technology that surrounds us these days is making us a lot safer.

But that is not really the case at all.

As technology advances, so do the criminals.  And if we are not aware of our vulnerabilities, we potentially become easy prey for those that would like to take advantage of us.

Have you heard of these kinds of crimes happening in your own neck of the woods?  Please feel free to share any stories that you may have by posting a comment below…

Key Fobs - Photo by ReplaceRemote

  • K

    The oldest of the car door openers is a simple radio with a digital recorder. When you press the key or the fob, it captures the signal, and can then repeat it. On the newer and more expensive cars the signal is supposed to alternate. But even then there are only so many possibilities. With modern computer chips the number of combinations you can go through in a few seconds is amazing. My vehicle being an older one does not alternate. What I do for a little added security, is manually lock the car with the key. Also have you had your vehicle broke into and either nothing taken, or not much. They are breaking into vehicles to record the codes off of your garage door openers. A few days later they come back and break in, when you are away. All they do is press a button, and they are in your garage. They close the door again, and they have all the time in the world, to get through the door between your garage and house. That is, if you remembered to lock it..

    • Graham

      I wonder if they have a device that can communicate directly with an override built into the vehicles ONSTAR system. Not something the media will be encouraged to discuss.

      I saw a few videos after the journalist got blown up in his Mercedes in 2013, which demonstrated how a laptop computer connection from the back seat could override all the systems including brakes (Boston Brakes).

      In these scenarios, the connection was not remote, but via the diagnostic port. Documentation then appeared online re the capabilities of the ONSTAR systems.

      Do they not have a subscription service where the vehicle can be remotely unlocked if the owner becomes locked out? I’m sure I read this.

      • K

        Yes onstar has a remote capability, it is supposed to be encrypted. Notice I said supposed. But I will tell you of one case that amazed me. They hacked into a jeeps on board computer through the tire pressure sensors. Reset the engine to run so rough the people pulled over. Thankfully this was just a test, to see if it could be done.

        • Graham

          Cheers for that one K. It makes sense that the system can probably be accessed via any onboard sensor.

      • Catman

        Graham, if you notice in the videos, it appears that most of the vehicles are Honda or Acura (same car). The exception being the Cadillac. New Honda and Acura cars do not have ONSTAR. It was only available between 2002 to 2005. The Honda/Acura cars appear to be current production models

    • ken

      ” What I do for a little added security, is manually lock the car with the key.” In what way does locking the door manually with the key add security?

      • K

        If they are out there intercepting the remote code. You never transmit one.

  • Tim

    I’d like to share something that happened recently here in my area, though I don’t know if it’s related to the subject of this article. On Saturdays I often go to a local state park for a hike. Earlier this week there was a story on the local news about a man whose car was broken into while hiking at the same state park. His bank cards and other personal items were stolen. A short time later, a man was caught on camera at a local credit union using the victim’s bank card at the ATM. The new story didn’t specify how the victim’s car was broken into.

    There is a sign at the entrance to the state park that says to not leave valuables in ones car. Now I understand why. That this kind of thing would happen at such a rural place really disturbs me. I mean, is there any place one can go today and not have to worry about crime?

    • laura m.

      Tim: we go to several state parks in the summertime and I leave my purse in the car under a towel. This is scary stuff. I’ve got the rest of the winter and spring before the weather warms up to change my habits while on vacations.

      • Tim

        I agree with you that this is scary. I used to leave my wallet locked in the car (but hidden) because I didn’t want to have it in my back pocket while hiking. I won’t do that anymore.

      • jaxon64

        I have one car that does not have a trunk release button inside the vehicle. It used to irk me that I always had to shut off my engine and use the key to open the trunk.
        Now that time has passed and in light of these reports, it is nice to have a trunk that only opens with a physical key. If I leave my car in a parking garage or at the Metro parking for the day–anything of any value goes into the trunk…this “non-option” or reductionin convenience option may be the way to go in the future–
        My wife, who usually is long suffering when I discuss prepping scenarios, was actually the one who told me about how OnStar could control your vehicle and that the fact that govt wanted one in every vehicle was very suspicious. How convenient that a potential whistleblower might take a sharp right hand turn off of a bridge and it would be reported as a “suicide” or at the least, “a tragic accident.”

        I always wanted a 65 Shelby or a 69 Camaro..maybe now I have an excuse ( and a new hobby.)

  • Graham

    The best deterrent against this device is to check your vehicles manual on how to “deadlock” your doors after remotely central locking them. That means a key is still required to “deactivate” the deadlock.

    Whilst I was not aware of this new method (thanks Michael), I am aware of others, which is why I have purposely deadlocked my doors for the past 20 years. I also deadlock the boot so it cannot be unlocked with the door switch.

    The classic was using a tennis ball to unlock a Mercedes. I will say no more. The method no longer works and hasn’t for a considerable period of time.

    • Dink Shwinker

      You Brits are soooo paranoid, locking up your galoshes like that.

  • DJohn1

    I kept coming home a while back and my garage door was open. I tracked it to the neighbor’s garage door remote being by some weird coincidence was set up identical to my garage door opener so they were the same one even though it was two entirely different companies. Things happen. That was a lottery style coincidence and wouldn’t happen again in a million years. Or at least I think that is the case.
    So I doubled my security with a little of my own tech.
    I took the power cord and ran it through a remote switch used to power lamps on and off in a room. End of problem.
    I simply turn the power off to the garage door opener after I close it when going away.
    It is no longer able to operate anything until I turn it back on with a remote. Then I have to push the button twice before it will open the garage door.
    I would suggest they are recording the signal when someone locks their car. Or when they unlock the car to get in. They simply follow someone until they get out of the car. Of course they lock the car with a remote. Then they wait until they leave. It is a simple matter to send the same signal they recorded back to the car computer and open the car.
    The only way around this is to power down the circuit that opens the door with a second remote. Then no one can open the car door until the second remote reactivates the circuit. It will have to reprogram itself so the button has to be pushed twice to make it work.
    I personally think we need LESS sophisticated tech on a car not more. Keeping things simple makes it harder for a thief.
    The other way to prevent theft is not to be in a neighborhood where the thieves frequent.
    I have timed response time in a small city and a big city next door. The response time in a large city is pretty bad. The small city will have three cruisers at my door in a very short period of time. Chances are one of those cruisers has a police dog in it.
    I can only say with size they haven’t kept up with the number of police needed to do an effective job.
    The other problem in a big city is the jails might be full so they are turning people loose way too soon.
    I am not really surprised by the new tech in crime.
    In all the years I had a police dog(hyperactive female German Shepherd) we never got broke into.
    Of course the suggestion to the police that they might just want to come by later and pick up the body had something to do with it.
    Their are many pieces of paper that have to be filled out when someone dies violently. An incident report is just one or two pieces of paper to fill out.
    They were out there with flashlights 3 minutes after I called.
    That happened many years ago. My Shepherd chased the prowlers out of the yard. She was taught not to leave the yard. She was a favorite pet with the kids. I had a remote that opened her kennel whenever someone might be in the yard that didn’t belong there.
    I haven’t had a shepherd in a long time. I did let the teens watch me practice with my silent crossbow once. It was a 150 pounder. I set it up to go through a bail of straw, several newspapers and a piece of plywood. When asked why I didn’t use a gun, I told the kids I could get six bolts off before anyone realized I was there . . .
    Never had any theft in all the years I lived there.
    It didn’t hurt that I was also an Air Police person at one time and understood police work from the inside out.
    I always gave them every bit of respect that it was possible to give them. They were pros and deserved respect. Remember that every time they go out there it is possible they are putting their lives on the line for you and me.

    • banana breath

      You could have just bought a couple of new openers that run on a different frequency. If I remember right, the door opener in the garage itself is programmed to the opener/button frequency.

  • Vincent Dow

    This is why I still have my mom’s 1971 cutlass supreme. Go mechanical!

    • Tom

      ’71 Cutlass! Now that’s a ***CAR*** worth driving.

  • blackciti_fo5

    I’m not surprised. Cars today are so computerized now its possible to hack into them. There are probably things you can do to eliminate the possibility of thieves breaking in like locking your doors with the key but the best thing to do is not leave any valuables in there. Take your garage door with you also if its not programmed into the homelink system. If it is, then you may want to delete the code. I know most people won’t do this but its better safe than sorry. This is the world we live in.

    Also there is a video on YT of a brand new Audi A7 driving itself into a parking lot. I know most of you will probably see nothing unusual about it however the car is COMPLETELY factory. There are no antennas or satellite dishes or large GPS units on the car. All the manufacture did was reprogram the cars computer and they also created an app for your phone and using that app, WiFi signal plus GPS that’s already included in the A7, the car is capable of parking itself in a garage. As the article stated, it could be possible to control a car from a laptop or in the case of that A7, a phone.

  • RM

    It’s a very simple device. It’s called a radio transmitter. It is sending a whole bunch of codes all at once via radio signal. My bet is that someone on the inside who is familiar with the codes used was involved in creating it. With all the use of foreign visa workers in IT, along with the offshoring of IT, it was just a matter of time before someone made this device.

    • banana breath

      exactly. They’re just playing dumb in the video for some reason. They act like it’s some alien technology from the future. It’s called a random frequency generator. Thieves have been using them to open garage doors for years. This is why I can’t stand main stream media. They treat people like their 6 year old idiots.

      • ort

        Ok, so I have a garage opener with rolling code technology. Do these devices negate that? If not, maybe car companies should employ rolling code.

        Just wondering.

        • northstar666

          Rolling code was invented for car alarms 20 odd years ago, like all technology, humans make it, humans crack it, accept this folks when I say there is nothing you can buy that is safe and secure! If it hasn’t been hacked by a 12 year old or by corporate or governments then its just a matter of time ….. it’s human nature to create, it’s human nature to destroy!

    • Cynicalguy42

      Out of curiosity, is it possible that the information got leaked somehow. After all, if the government can see Internet and phone transmissions, even supposedly secure ones…

    • BeenThere

      All the hi tech made in 3rd world countries. This is the most likely explaination

  • KORGG

    An article I read months ago , compared the device to a universal remote control for a television.

  • JJ

    Maybe it’s time to get a REALLY old car now lol. I’ve always wanted a 1962 Ford Thunderbird.

    • gannamede

      I had a 63 T bird JJ (almost identical) and of all the cars I’ve ever owned, that’s the one I wish I still had!

      Even by todays standards it would still be a head-turner!

  • Arizona

    CONSIDERING,DARPA developed the system,and AMERICAS COMMIE PRESIDENT sold everything to CHINA,how long did the dumbasses think it would be before it appeared on the streets of america,Well its here and its to late to stop it,ALL amricans can do now is disable the electronic system or just put up with your cars being broken into,another great step BACKWARDS for americas stupid tech systems,and this is going to spread like wildfire,GO BACK TO KEY LOCKS,or suffer your cars being broke into…IT was only a matter of time before the high tech gagets back fired on everyone……………..

  • Justin Case

    News Alert !!!
    My local news reported that thieve are now using some devise similar the same as radio transmitter which can steal your credit card number and pin number all by just walking by you and steal it even if your credit card is in your wallet…
    best protection is just cover your credit card with some sort of Aluminium foil covering your credit card in your wallet but there are a protected cover for your credit card that you can but from any electronic store outlet.

    • K

      Zippo makes an excellent stainless steel wallet. It is both comfortable and flexible. It also totally shields your cards. There are other brands as well. Zippo just happens to be a brand I trust.

    • James Childress

      I doubt that works with older non-RFID embedded CCs.

  • Catman

    Read this:

    http://blog.kismetwireless.net/2013/08/playing-with-hackrf-keyfobs.html

    Capture the codes for “unlock” from various manufacturers. Use a PIC micro-controller along with one of these: http://www.ti.com/lit/ds/slws011d/slws011d.pdf

    And away you go.

  • Chicky

    To guess the unlock code would take a supercomputer… Not to get too “tech” but you only have to generate a couple of hundred random (unsuccessful) attempts to unlock the vehicle in order to de-synchronize the original factory remote and the vehicle sensor. Once they are de-synced then the vehicle manufacturer has a process for the owner to re-sync them. Someone has figured out how to override the vehicle’s re-sync process and reset the vehicle’s code to the one of their “gadget”.

    • Catman

      Chicky,

      Not entirely true, When your remotes sync, there’s 256 possible codes that are valid. The reason is in case you press your unlock button away from your vehicle. If you were to do that with a one off code, you wouldn’t be able to get in as you were out of sync.

      See my post referencing kismetwireless.

      If you are able to capture the unlock codes for a series of vehicles by testing a number of fobs as illustrated in the article, you could use a microcontroller to continuously run through the possible security codes coupled with the “unlock” command.

      You could actually run multiple units simultaneously since the cars just ignore invalid codes and don’t alert on invalid codes and alarm.

      Eventually you would pop a lock. The video of the guy in Chicago makes me think this is what is happening as you can see him walk past the car and then return when he realizes it unlocked.

  • Pistos

    automated home system ? NO THANKS…

  • SalGambino

    It is sad that we have permitted this type of activity to exist in our society.

    Lock valuables in the trunk and leave nothing in the passenger cabin that is viewable from the outside.

    Get an alarm system that connects to the vehicle’s horn, not the wimpy device that comes with most inexpensive (less than $200) alarm systems.

    Get a pistol. The larger caliber the better. Practice.

    If someone doesn’t value their life any more than to break into your vehicle and steal your belongings why should you. Shoot until they are no longer a threat.

  • Leroyg

    Had this done to me last night in the uk.. Stole loads of tools out of my ford transit connect.. The thief was seen on CCTV doing the same thing.. It’s gone global. Needs to be stopped..