Next time you come back to your car and find it unlocked it might not be because you forgot to lock it – a thief sitting nearby might have actually stopped you locking your car without you knowing.
For years science fiction has depicted criminals, governments and security forces being able to block signals with radio jammers. Now criminals in the UK have started to get their hands on jammers and are using them to break into cars.
A recent incident caught on camera by a passerby at the Manchester Fort Shopping Park has highlighted just how easy it is to stop people being able to use their remote central locking car keys.
These keys use radio waves to communicate with a receiver inside the car. The key sends a signal to the car with a unique identifier and a command to either lock or unlock the car. But the wireless communication, like any other radio usage, can be jammed.
A device can be used to flood the radio spectrum used by the keys with interference, which stops the low-power system of the remote car keys from working.
Many cars that use radio keys no longer have separate key locks for manual operation, so the jammer can stop a driver from either locking or unlocking their car using their key.
As long as the owner doesn’t realise what’s going on, car thieves then have potentially a field of open cars to plunder.
The incident in Manchester showed that an entire open car park can easily be covered by jammers.
More and more cars rely on wireless technology for security and operation. A popular feature called keyless entry, which simply requires the presence of a key near to or within a car to keep it unlocked and operational relies on a constant wireless signal that could be jammed.
Car companies are aware of the possibility of these kinds of attacks. Vehicle theft is now the lowest it has been since 1968 and has dropped 70% in the last 10 years.
A spokeswoman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said: “The automotive industry continues to work tirelessly to stay one step ahead of criminals by working closely with police, insurers and security experts.”
For those worried about jammers, the advice is make sure your car is locked before walking away. Watch for the flash of lights and sounds that indicate the car has successfully locked all doors. Manually check that the door is locked and do not leave valuables in view inside the car.