Last week, the New York Times columnist Nick Bilton took to Twitter to let the world know that two kids broke into his car before his very eyes. What made the break-in a little more remarkable was the fact that, according to Bilton, the perps used an electronic device to simply unlock his Toyota Prius, rather than doing things the old-fashioned way with a slim jim, coat hanger, or brick.
Bilton has elaborated on the event in his column, where he postulates that the young miscreants gained entry to his car (and those of several of his neighbors) by amplifying the signal between his keyless entry fob and car. Keyless entry systems typically only communicate with their remote fobs over the distance of a few feet, but he thinks that the gadget is capable of extending this range, fooling the car into thinking that the remote is within range even though it was actually in Bilton's House, about 50 feet away. He arrived at this theory after he consulted with Boris Danev, a Swiss-based security expert:
"It's a bit like a loudspeaker, so when you say hello over it, people who are 100 meters away can hear the word, 'hello,'" Mr. Danev said. "You can buy these devices anywhere for under $100." He said some of the lower-range devices cost as little as $17 and can be bought online on sites like eBay, Amazon and Craigslist.
This isn't the first time that signal repeaters have been linked to car burglaries in California. In 2013, we reported on a similar spate of thefts in Long Beach, CA, that left local police 'stumped.' And it’s not the only way of gaining entry to a supposedly secure car; The Register has previously covered devices that can eavesdrop on the signal between a BMW and its remote, allowing miscreants to program a blank remote for later use.