CINCINNATI — Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey speculated the investigation into how someone gained access to her car could involve cloning key fobs.
“Secured my car. Locked it. Put the alarm on and went into my house,” McGuffey said in an interview Sunday, June 20. “When I woke up the next morning, I came out and found my car was stolen. Gone from my driveway."
The car, along with her department-issued handgun and her personal laptop – all gone.
“We’re investigating this from a standpoint of trying to keep it from happening to other people,” McGuffey said. “Obviously, there’s a huge concern here regarding people’s cars who have key fobs attached to their car.”
The two key fobs to the stolen 2021 Dodge Charger are still in her possession, and while there’s no word yet on what caused the incident, technology experts have an educated guess.
“There are many stories out there already that this is becoming a larger problem,” said cybersecurity expert Dave Hatter.
He said key fobs send out a signal – and without knowing it, thieves can use that signal to bypass your automobile’s security system.
“Bad guys have figured out how to build devices to amplify the signal,” Hatter said. “In some cases they can get close to your house, use the amplifier to relay the signal to your car and get in your car and drive off with it.”
He said another way to get into a car is by using a jammer. That block’s the key’s signal and makes you think the car’s locked when it’s actually unlocked.
Hatter said every car with an electronic key that can be used to gain entry to a vehicle is a potential security concern, but the best way to avoid becoming a victim of thieves is to remove all valuables from your car.
“The thieves don’t necessarily need to break your window,” Hatter said. “If you have a theft like this, and you call the cops and say my stuff was stolen, you’ll have a hard time convincing them when they show up. There’s no evidence of marks on the door. Lock hasn’t been tampered with. Window hasn’t been broken.
He said the best way to avoid falling victim to a potential theft that involves cloning your car’s key fob is to leave your keys in the refrigerator, the microwave or another place that's insulated.
“They won’t be able to pick up the signal,” Hatter said. “It sounds kinda crazy, but sadly that’s where we’re at today.”
He said it’s important to know security risks when buying new technology.
“Unfortunately these problems aren’t going to go away until new technology comes along that has security built in by design and replaces this old stuff,” Hatter said.
For anyone concerned about a key fob cloning related crime, an Amazon.com search found several options ranging in price from $8 to $15.