Own a car with push-button ignition? Thieves might be able to nab it with this gadget (video)

December 9, 2016

If you're the sort of person who's worried about hackers stealing your car, please skip to the next article. This isn't going to make you sleep any easier.

That's because the National Insurance Crime Bureau has gotten its hands on a handheld "mystery device" that can unlock and start vehicles. The gadget works without setting off any alarms, leaving baddies to loot a car or steal it altogether.

The NICB first heard about this sort of device in 2014, when law enforcement agencies across the country began filing reports about small, electronic gadgets capable of popping locks. Two years later, the NICB has gotten its hands on one of the devices (courtesy of a security expert from overseas) and tested its capabilities on more than 35 U.S. models. 


Though the tests weren't scientific, they did involve a wide range of vehicles, including cars, minivans, SUVs, and at least one pickup. Some of those vehicles belonged to NICB partner CarMax, some were on the lot of a new car dealership, and at least a few were owned by NICB employees.

All told, the NICB says that was able to open locks on 19 of the 35 test vehicles. It was able to start and drive off in 18 of them, and once the engine was turned off, the device was able to restart 12 cars. 

What did those vehicles have in common? They all used keyless remote entry systems, and they all made use of push-button ignitions.

Whether the device was a perfect match for those being used by actual thieves remains up for debate. This particular model was developed by engineers who wanted to prevent automotive thefts by testing the strength of vehicles' security systems.

There are many other such devices available on the black market, but the NICB can't say for sure what sorts of vehicles and technology they might affect. The organization says it's likely, however, that some devices work on different sorts of ignition and security systems. 

Bottom line

The good news for car owners is that devices like these appear to be fairly rare.

The bad news is, the devices aren't well understood and they makes use of technological loopholes found on many modern vehicles.

In other words, if there's a thief in your area who's been eyeing your ride and happens to have one of these devices in hand, there's probably not much you can do to protect your car. You can, however, make your vehicle a less-attractive target by always locking your car, parking in well-lit areas, and taking your key fob with you. 

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