Opening a Car Without a Key:
How Secure Is the Technology?

For many drivers, a car key means security – but it is the mechanical key that carries the risk of theft. If you open your car without a key, several technologies are available for this purpose. These sometimes offer a high level of data security and thus reduce the risk of the car being attacked by hacking.

1. The Most Important Facts in Brief

  • The security of digital car keys plays an important role in the fight against car theft and car
  • RFID technology is under criticism because this virtual car key has little security – the radio signal can be extended relatively easily.
  • Opening mechanisms via NFC or Bluetooth in particular offer security.
  • Many providers rely on additional security standards for the highest possible data protection.

2. Opening Car Without Key: Methods at a Glance

1. RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification)

A pioneer in the field of virtual car keys used RFID radio recognition. This allows vehicle access without a mechanical key with the help of a sensor. You have to carry the sensor chip with you so that it sends a signal to the car as soon as you approach it sufficiently. If the signal matches the vehicle code, the door opens. If you want to open a car with central locking without a key, you can retrofit it with the technology.

2. NFC (Near Field Technology)

NFC technology can also be used for vehicle access. To do this, hold your smartphone with NFC function directly against the car’s door handle, which is also equipped with an NFC receiver. The vehicle is then unlocked automatically. The engine can also be started via NFC if the phone is placed in a special charging cradle.

3. Key Box With Bluetooth

In this variant, the flexible box is placed in the car and contains your physical car key. With a signal via app on your smartphone, you trigger a mechanical lever that activates the key’s open button. The signal is transmitted via Bluetooth and is quadruple encrypted. Additional security for this car key is provided by the option of hiding Bluetooth devices. This means that the vehicle’s Bluetooth signal can only be found by authenticated devices in the vicinity.

3. RFID, NFC and Bluetooth: Security and Data Protection at a Glance

RFID technology has already been criticized because its lack of encryption makes it easy for hackers to attack. Instead, it is sufficient for car thieves to extend the range of the signal between the key and the car. As long as there is gasoline in the tank, thieves can continue to drive virtually unhindered. A simple counter method is to manually switch off the virtual car key function, but this is not always possible. However, many suppliers of RFID technology are already retrofitting so that data security is also ensured with this method.

NFC security is generally stated to be high, for example, also for contactless payment. The reason for this is the encrypted transmission of the signals, which only takes place within a few centimeters. Car thieves would have to approach within this small distance to be able to use the data for themselves – similar to the attempt to read payment cards with a fictitious card reader. A dynamic, non-copyable code is generated for each NFC process. This further increases data security.

Bluetooth is also considered very secure when it comes to data transmission, provided that there is encryption of the sender and/or receiver. The data sent is then validated in a challenge-response process before the vehicle is opened. There is only a brief moment that would allow access from the outside – a hacking attack on the car in exactly this second is very unlikely.

And there is another option to increase security: If the Bluetooth module can be hidden among the available Bluetooth devices in the environment, it is only displayed in the selection of already authenticated smartphones. Possible attacks on the module can thus be prevented.

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