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Chinese Team Finds Way to Hack Your Car’s Key Fob for About $20 From 1,000 Feet Away

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A Chinese team has designed a new way to hack into your car—and this time it doesn’t involve a guy crouching in the parking lot holding a sinister black box. Now it takes two dudes in hoodies and a pair of inexpensive phone-sized devices.

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The team is made up of three researchers named Yingtao Zeng, Qing Yang, and Jun Li, who call themselves Unicorn Team, and their car hack is based on how proximity key fobs interact with the car.

Basically, the way they work is by emitting a radio signal which is picked up by the car. The car then responds, and the back-and-forth unlocks the car and lets you drive it. Normally, this only works when you are very close to the car.

The hacking devices, then, work to trick the car into thinking the fob is nearby by passing the fob’s signal between each other. So, like was shown in the video above, one of the thieves follows close by you while you have the fob. The device picks up the radio signals, converts it to data, then sends it at a much lower frequency to the second device, which converts it back to the radio signal, and click, the car opens. Due to the design, the devices can work when they are as far as 1,000 feet apart.

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Unicorn Team's hacking devices

Unicorn Team’s hacking devices
Photo: Unicorn Team at the HITB Conference

The team hopes that manufacturers can use this lesson to increase the security of proximity keys, especially due to their popularity (and their inherent insecure nature). Specifically, the team advocates that automakers reduce the amount of time it takes before the car’s lock system times out.

News Sources: HITB Conference, Jalopnik