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The Modern Car Thief's High-Tech Toolkit: A Look into Relay Attacks


Welcome to an exploration of relay attacks, a sophisticated car theft method that leverages technology to steal your car without physical contact with your key. We'll delve into this digital-age threat and explore potential countermeasures.

Man stealing car
Free Stock photos by Vecteezy

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Heist of the Digital Age
  3. The Mechanics of Mayhem
  4. The Ingenious Techniques of Relay Attacks
  5. Real-World Revelations
    1. The Tesla Shock
    2. Kia's Vulnerability
    3. Keyless Entry Vulnerabilities
  6. The Defense Against Relay Attacks
    1. Faraday Bags: The Guardian Shield
    2. Steering Wheel Locks: A Physical Barrier
    3. Going Old-School: Physical Keys
  7. Parting Thoughts

The Heist of the Digital Age

Picture this: You're confident in the security of your modern car, parked snugly in your driveway. The key fob rests safely inside your home, far from prying eyes. Yet, unseen and unheard, high-tech thieves are plotting their heist. They're not breaking windows or jimmying locks; they're exploiting digital chinks in your car's armor.

The era of relay attacks has arrived, bypassing traditional car theft methods for a silent invasion. This contemporary approach hinges on seizing vulnerabilities within keyless entry systems, rendering your vehicle susceptible to a technologically advanced heist.

The Mechanics of Mayhem

  1. Relay Attack Devices: These devices work in tandem, with one capturing your key fob's signal and the other extending that signal to your vehicle, often over a considerable distance.
  2. Signal Amplification: The stolen signal gets boosted, reaching your car as if your key fob were right there. Your car, thinking it's you, obediently unlocks itself.
  3. Seamless Escape: With the car unlocked, the thief easily gains access, starts the engine, and drives away, all without physically touching your key fob.

    Pleasant inforgraphic explaining how a relay attack works

The Ingenious Techniques of Relay Attacks

Let's uncover the ingenious techniques relay attackers use:

Boosted Signal Relaying

In this method, attackers use specialized hardware to amplify the signal they've stolen from your key fob. The amplified signal is then transmitted to the device near your vehicle, making it appear as if your key fob is within close proximity.

Rolling Code Hacks

Some keyless entry systems use rolling codes that change with each use of your key fob. Savvy criminals have figured out how to predict or intercept these rolling codes, effectively unlocking your car without your key fob being present.

Synchronized Signal Theft

In this technique, thieves employ two relay devices that work in perfect harmony. One captures your key fob's signal, while the other simultaneously transmits it to your car. It's a synchronized theft, and even the most advanced keyless entry systems can't escape this technique.

Real-World Revelations

Now, let's examine real-world cases that shed light on this digital heist:

The Tesla Shock

Researchers at KU Leuven in Belgium raised eyebrows by demonstrating how a Tesla Model S could be stolen using a relay attack. Even cutting-edge vehicles aren't immune to this threat, highlighting the need for advanced security measures. Read more

Kia's Vulnerability

In a recent development, Kia faced a severe vulnerability to relay attacks, leaving their vehicles susceptible to theft. Criminals exploited weaknesses in Kia's key fob system, leading to a string of car thefts. This real-world case underscores the importance of robust security solutions. Read more

Keyless Entry Vulnerabilities

Numerous cases worldwide have exposed the vulnerabilities of keyless entry systems. High-end vehicles, from BMWs to Mercedes, have fallen victim to relay attacks. These incidents serve as a stark reminder that no car brand is invulnerable to these high-tech heists. Read more

The Defense Against Relay Attacks

Protecting your vehicle from relay attacks is crucial. Here are some countermeasures:

Faraday Bags and Vaults: The Guardian Shield

Faraday bags, such as GoDark Faraday Bags and Key Fob Vaults, provide robust protection against relay attacks, and have quickly become a manufacturer- recommended standard in protecting against relay attacks.

GoDarks specially designed bags and vaults block all EMF signals from 200MHz - 400GHz (4G,5G, Bluetooth, Wifi, etc.), preventing thieves from replicating and extending your key fob's range. Simply place your key fob inside, and you're shielded from digital heists! (For multiple keys, we'd recommend the phone bag)

Steering Wheel Locks: A Physical Barrier

Steering wheel locks serve as a physical barrier to car thieves. They make it virtually impossible to steer the vehicle, even if the thief manages to unlock and start it. It's a low-tech, highly effective deterrent.

Steering wheel lock on steering wheel

Going Old-School: Physical Keys

Consider using physical keys as an effective low-tech solution. While they may lack the digital convenience of keyless entry, they also lack the vulnerability to relay attacks.

Car Key and Fob
Free Stock photos by Vecteezy

Parting Thoughts

 Relay attacks represent a significant threat, silently infiltrating your vehicle's defense. By staying informed and employing countermeasures like, Faraday bags and Vaults, steering wheel locks, or even returning to physical keys, you can protect your vehicle from falling prey to these sophisticated attacks. Your car's security is in your hands, and safeguarding it is paramount.