Code-Grabbing: Car Theft Goes High-Tech (10/02/18)

Most drivers know to park in a well-lit area and to make sure their car doors are locked. Unfortunately, while those preventative tips are still useful, they aren’t sufficient, with criminals using code-grabbers to duplicate key fobs and unlock the car as easily as the owner does.


“Code-grabbing” has been talked about since a 1996 article from The New York Times warned drivers of criminals using “high-tech recording devices” to steal cars. While the technology used in key fobs has improved immensely since that article was published twenty-two years ago, unfortunately hackers have also improved their methods.

Car manufacturers have worked to improve key fobs and remote entry systems to prevent hacking and code-grabbing. For instance, the “rolling codes” system doesn’t use the same code twice to unlock a vehicle. Sounds brilliant, right? Wrong. At the DefCon hacker conference in 2015, a hacker named Samy Kamkar presented the details of his gadget called RollJam, which allowed the user to simultaneously copy the first code sent from the key fob to unlock the car, while copying the second code to use later.

While code-grabbing might seem to be a relatively sophisticated form of crime that few criminals would have the capacity to accomplish, today anyone can buy car-theft kits via Amazon or eBay. With the availability and relatively low cost of these devices, car theft and robbery in general have begun to increase in the United States.

Law Enforcement

Various devices have been developed for protecting cars from high-tech theft. Though these code-grabbers can pick up signals through walls, doors and windows, they cannot penetrate metal as easily. Putting the keys in a metal box or even the refrigerator will greatly reduce the risk of the key fob being duplicated. Another method of protection available is a Faraday wallet or pouch like the FOBGUARD, which is designed specifically for blocking signals. In addition to these preventative measures, locking car doors manually, instead of using the key fob, is also a smart method to use.

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