Skip To Content

    This Ex-Hacker Showed How Thieves Steal Cars Using Wireless Key Fobs And What You Can Do To Stop It From Happening To You

    Two experts agree that foil works — here's how to do it.

    Marcus Hutchins is an ex-hacker turned security researcher who recently showed people how to spot hidden cameras in Airbnbs and hotels. Now Marcus is back making people lead safer lives once again. This time it's about auto thieves.

    Following a video where he showed how thieves clone company access cards, Marcus responded to a commenter who suggested that Teslas could be stolen the same way:


    Reply to @mintesra22 Rather than cloning the key they typically use an amplification + relay attack to extend the key’s range #hacking #tech #security

    ♬ original sound - Marcus Hutchins

    In the viral video above, Marcus explains how people can steal wireless car keys, saying, "The way in which thieves steal these is the car and the key talk to each other, and they use a very, very short-range frequency so that they can only hear each other when they're very close. So the car knows if it can hear the key, the key is very close to the car, and it will allow the door to unlock and the engine to start."

    Marcus on TikTok explaining how thieves steal cars that use wireless key fobs

    "So let's say the owner is asleep in the house. They create a walkie-talkie-like device, except instead of voices, it's for the frequency that both the car and key talk on. And they put one side near the door where it can pick up the car key's signal and the other side near the car where it can pick up the car's signal. And then it will send these wirelessly between each side, and essentially the car and key can talk to each other over a longer range."

    A car key

    Marcus then made another video where he showed what a keyless car hack would look like:


    Reply to @malwaretech Keyless car hacking #security #tech

    ♬ original sound - Marcus Hutchins

    "The big box the guy in front is holding is a really powerful antenna, and that's going to be able to pick up the key's signal from outside the house," he explains in his TikTok.

    Camera footage of thieves

    "The smaller device that the guy in the back has relays that signal to the car allowing him to unlock the door and start the engine. Now, this is actually a lot easier than stealing a regular car. They can basically just walk up with this device and then drive off with the car."

    Camera footage of a thief stealing a car

    In Marcus's initial video, he says that tightly wrapping aluminum foil around your key fob may help stop the break-in because it prevents the key from communicating with the car.

    A roll of aluminum foil

    BuzzFeed also spoke with Digital Health, Safety, and Wellness expert August Brice. She is the founder of Tech Wellness — a platform informed by experts in cybersecurity, public health, and screen addictions to provide solutions for living safer and healthier in our digital world.

    August confirmed that thieves use wireless transmitter boxes to pick up radio frequency identification (RFID) signals from key fobs, just as Marcus described. "They are using wireless transmitter boxes that were first developed for law enforcement — ugh," she said.

    A person's hand holding a wireless transmitter box inside a car

    And she backed Marcus's claim that foil can successfully block RFID signals. To further prove her point, August actually made a video showing that, as long as a key fob is wrapped properly with an ample amount of foil, it successfully obstructs the signal. "When it's doubled or quadrupled up and sealed well, it does the job of blocking the RFID signals."

    August Brice / Tech Wellness

    August also points out in the video above that faradays may be an option as well. For those who don't know, faradays are specifically designed to block RFID signals. "Key fob faradays are lined with material which has a blend of metallic threads to block an array of wireless signals," she said.

    Hopefully this info can help you save yourself from a potential break-in. Be safe out there!

    Special thanks to Marcus and August. You can follow Marcus on TikTok and Instagram — and you can follow August on Instagram and YouTube.