In February, Road and Track reviewed the essential features to look for when buying a new mid-range car. There were some expected features, such as heated seats and wide-screen displays, as well as some surprising features like a wi-fi hotspots. However, one thing on this list was questionable: keyless entry and remote button start.
The fob, while certainly advantageous from the viewpoint of day-to-day driving, still has some problems. It’s not quite time to condemn ordinary keys to “ancient history” just yet.
August 2016 unleashed a flurry of articles about the apparent ease of hacking into automobiles via any number of computer systems with the modern car, with fobs high on the list. The Guardian weighed in with one of the most comprehensive reviews of the state of automobile security, and after discussing the matter with security professionals and car manufacturers in London and the UK, they concluded that on this dire note: “car hacking is here to stay, and sooner or later, you’ll be hit too.”
Fobs, it transpires, are especially dangerous. It’s been proven to be both easy and relatively cheap – just a couple hundred dollars at most – to procure the necessarily technology that even newbie hackers can use.
Faced with this grim prognosis, it’s tempting to fall into nostalgia for the days of straight blade keys that required expensive key-cutting knowledge and precise information to replicate the key. Then, a potential thief needed time and experience to unlock your car or resort to more physical and obvious car-jacking strategies.
There is some good news in the hacking department. Car manufacturers are aware of the vulnerability and working hard to improve their security. Car and Driver reported that industry leaders are increasing their cooperation, and some have even offered rewards for hackers who point out overlooked or especially egregious security flaws. As of yet, though, solutions are still lacking, and this has real consequences: in London, an average of 17 cars a day are stolen through hacking, a statistic which is unlikely to drop until solutions are found.
The other problem with the fob is less obvious than hacking, which makes it all the more insidious. Fobs, in their promise to make lockouts a thing of the past, lure us into a false sense of security. Instead of keeping track of our keys, they become detached in our mind. Keyless entry users, as a result, can find themselves setting out to drive only to recall that their fob is in their other bag or still at the office. In some situations, this means that they, like traditional key holders, resort to calling an emergency mobile locksmith and wind up spending much more money to replace their high-tech key.
This is not to say that fob keyless entry systems don’t have their place. It’s just a reminder that they aren’t secure nor are they foolproof.