Industry News

Hi-Tech Car Lockpick Puts Car Manufacturers on Red Alert

A wave of car theft that started in February might completely change the contactless car lock industry as we know it. 

A number of incidents caught on security cameras in Long Beach, California, reveal individuals equipped with something that looks like a high-tech wireless lockpick who approach passenger doors and open them in a matter of seconds without triggering the alarm.

According to a report on Today Magazine, neither police nor car vendors can explain how this is possible, even though thieves have compromised a number of car models throughout the first half of the year.

“This is bad in the sense we’re stumped,” said Long Beach Deputy Police Chief David Hendricks. “We are stumped and we don’t know what this technology is.”

On the other side, security experts are also puzzled by how easy it is to break into a car equipped with a remote-controlled locking system.

“This is really frustrating because clearly they’ve figured out something that looks really simple and whatever it is they’re doing, it takes just seconds to do,” said Jim Stickley, co-Founder TraceSecurity Inc.. “And you look and you go, ‘That should not be possible.'”

Since their introduction in the ‘50s, car key fobs have undergone major improvements in terms of security. The signals the keys send to the authorized car are not reusable – a car key can generate more than one trillion unique signals, so sniffing an unlocking operation to reuse a legit code is not an option. The locking subsystems in modern cars are synchronized with the key via a pseudo-random number generator that is similar to the one-time-password device you use in banking transactions, so one car will only open its doors to the key that has been synchronized with it.

One thing is sure: camera footage shows that the device has failed on some brands such as Ford and Cadillac, and Acuras have welcomed the intruders without much resistance.

Until police figure how the attackers circumvented the electronic locks, here’s a piece of free advice: don’t leave any valuable goods in the car. Since thieves are apparently not interested in stealing the car but rather raiding valuables, that should keep you safe for the moment.

About the author


Bogdan Botezatu is living his second childhood at Bitdefender as senior e-threat analyst. When he is not documenting sophisticated strains of malware or writing removal tools, he teaches extreme sports such as surfing the web without protection or rodeo with wild Trojan horses. He believes that most things in life can be beat with strong heuristics and that antimalware research is like working for a secret agency: you need to stay focused at all times, but you get all the glory when you catch the bad guys.


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  • well… i have a recorded clip filmed in front of my house 2 years ago … a men passes near the cars (3 cars different brands ww, opel, mercedes ) and easily opens them as he pass :) so is not so new. he took everything that had value and easy be taken.

  • Saw this article on a few Us websites … they have no idea what the device is , and at the same time , they cannot stop it …
    It looks like the device works on the passenger door only for some reason … :-/

    • There is a good reason for opening the passenger door: this is not a limitation of the tool, as it opens the centralized unlocking system, so every door gets unlocked. I believe that this has something to do with ease of access: since you’re not going to steal the car (because you can’t trick the immobilizer theft deterrent system), it’s easier to open the passenger door to just steal things from the car – you don’t have the steering wheel in front of you and you can also search the glove compartment on the passenger side). It’s just a supposition, but it would make sense.