Remote-control car locks vulnerable, tests reveal
Signal interference blocks locking mechanisms in four major vehicle makes flaw allows thieves to prevent cars from being locked and to prey on ownersA test conducted by The Nation on four makes of cars - three Japanese and one American - found that signal interference can block their remote-control locking mechanisms.
Dusit Suksawas, a lecturer with the electronics engineering division at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Lat Krabang, conducted a similar test.
The technique usually involves thieves hiding in car parks, using their frequency jammers and then gaining entry to the unattended vehicles. In more serious cases, criminals may use their device to prevent owners from entering their cars, leaving them vulnerable to assault.
The easiest way to foil the jammers is to manually lock the doors with the key rather than using the remote, Dusit said.
Toyotas are most vulnerable, Dusit said, and he based this assertion on the fact that many of his students owned Toyotas that had been stolen or broken into.
He said he conducted tests on several remote-control units and found that they all work on the same range of frequencies, which are widely available.
The test by The Nation found this vulnerability to exist with most middle-sized and smaller cars, but larger Japanese and European makes were not affected.
Also, the vulnerability appears to be an issue with remote controls issued by automobile manufacturers. A test on after-market remote controls showed they could not be disrupted.
Toyota Thailand insists that its remotes are not flawed, although there is a caution about theft in the vehicle handbooks.
"There are several factors that might contribute to the disruption in the operation of remote controls used with cars, but there is nothing wrong with those produced by Toyota, especially units used with the Vios," said Manus Daomanee, Toyota Thailand's technical services general manager.
Remote control units could be disrupted by strong electromagnetic fields, such as those from nearby generators, radio transmissions or other remote-control units.
"The manual also says the remote control units' operational range is no more than five metres," he said.
Cases where cars were stolen or broken into because the doors weren't locked were usually the result of the remote-control batteries being weak.
Investigations into all incidents reported to Toyota would be carried out, Manus added.
A source with Honda Automobile (Thailand) give similar explanations, and advised car owners to make it a habit to always visually check that all the car doors are locked, or manually inspect them by pulling on the door handles.
Car remotes use three types of transmissions - analog, digital and infrared. Analog, which has a five-metre radius, is the easiest to exploit, while a digital remote's range is 30 metres and is harder to compromise. The infrared type is no longer used, a source said.