What Can’t be Hacked

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There are two great things about cars keys that aren’t electronic keys. Three things, actually.

Wait. Four things.

The first is that they last decades, assuming you don’t lose them. I still have the original set of keys for my 1976 Pontiac, one for the ignition the other for the doors, trunk and glovebox. They are nearly 50 years old – and still work as well as they did back in ’76.

And they never need new batteries in order to work. I could leave them in the drawer for the next 50 years – and whoever ends up owning the TA in 2073 (which won’t be me, probably) will be able to start it and unlock it using those same keys. By which time those keys will be pushing 100 years old.

That’s the second thing.

The third is that they are easily – and very inexpensively – duplicated/replaced, in the event you do lose them or just need new ones. I can get both ignition and door keys cut for about ten bucks at any hardware store. I do not have to go to a dealer to get them “programmed,” either.

This saves a lot of money – and not just when the time comes to get a new key made rather than programmed. New cars with keyless – that is, electronic – ignition and door locks cost several hundred dollars more to buy on account of those keyless systems and their related systems.

It’s a good idea to get the dealer to throw in as many fobs as you can wheedle out of him as part of the purchase. Once the deal is done, you’ll have to buy a replacement fob when the time comes. Which it will, if you forget to take the fob out of your pocket before running your pants through the wash.

My Trans-Am’s keys can be left at the bottom of a swimming pool for weeks without any effect on their working.

But here’s the fourth – fifth? – thing: Real keys that require you to insert them in a lock to unlock the ignition or the doors or the trunk cannot be “hacked.” No one can remotely start your car using their phone. But if you don’t have keys, there is an app for that.

MSN published an article the other day about how it’s done. A security engineer at Yuga Labs showed just how vulnerable keyless cars are to being unlocked (and started) by someone other than their owners. It turns out – who’d a thunk it? – that the keyless systems used by practically every major automaker are wirelessly connected (to SiriusXM satellite radio) and Curry was able to access and exploit this “connectivity” to unlock vehicles and start their engines without even being physically near the car.

A number of new cars have keyless keys integrated with an app that can be loaded onto a smartphone. And smartphones are connected devices, too. Whoever gains access to what’s on your phone could also gain access to whatever’s in your car, too. And control over your car, too.

This includes, by the way, the government. This latter consideration may be the most important one as theft is bad but being monitored – and controlled – much worse. Imagine a near future in which your car won’t unlock – or start – because you haven’t scanned your latest proof of “vaccination” into your phone. Or perhaps showed your phone your Diapered Face as a condition of unlocking it. Even without accessing your phone, the government can still access your connected car – and lock it down, at its whim.

Remember that beginning with the 2026 models, all new cars will be required by law – courtesy of the Biden Thing – to have a “kill” switch built into them.

An electronic switch. One that can be flipped remotely, via  . . . connectivity. Keep in mind, as well, the fact that the government would also have access to your car – being able to get inside whenever it likes.

All of the for the sake of what, again?

To be able to just tug on a door handle to open it rather than use a key to unlock it? To be able to push a “start” button to get the engine running rather than insert a key in an ignition lock and turn it to do the same?

What has been gained? The better question, perhaps, is: What has been lost?

A simple thing that is also a cheap and reliable thing as well as a far less vulnerable thing has been replaced by a much more expensive, far less reliable and infinitely more vulnerable thing, for the sake of a few seconds’ convenience  – which are negated by the far more serious inconvenience of having someone else being able to remotely unlock/start your car.

And the government being in the position of having the power to lock you out of your car and shut the engine down.

I’ll keep my old GM keys instead, thanks.

. . .

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32 COMMENTS

  1. As the lock picking lawyer on Youtube has repeatedly proven, it’s trivial to pick car locks.

    Way easier than digital keys….

  2. “Remember that beginning with the 2026 models, all new cars will be required by law – courtesy of the Biden Thing – to have a “kill” switch built into them.”

    Where’s the bleedin’ kill switch on the government?

    • RE: “Where’s the bleedin’ kill switch on the government?”

      I think that’s a Very good question!

      Perhaps, it’s within the hearts of every individual?

      …IF only, in enough hearts?

      Idk.

    • > Where’s the bleedin’ kill switch on the government?

      It’s called the Second Amendment. It does, however, require things to have gotten to a certain level of intolerability that we appear to not have reached yet, even after the three-year-and-growing train of abuses and usurpations we have suffered.

    • I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that when that time comes, there will be some enterprising redneck that will figure out a way to remove all that fancy geejaw electronics (including computers that track your milage, speed and direction, as well as removing the “kill switch”), and do a simple, straightforward wiring a la 1950s-1960s pre-computer cars.
      God bless the rednecks.

  3. Yes, disconcerting that organized car theft rings could hack into your ride and easily unlock and drive off with it.

    What ought to be even MORE disconcerting is the ultimate criminal gang, i.e., the “Surveillance State”, which includes but is NOT LIMITED to Federal law enforcement agencies. Be assured that THEY could take your ride on some flimsy pretext, but why bother with that? They could, hypothetically, enter your vehicle at ANYTIME, either planting things or simply to snoop. And unlike your home or your person, which also every the more are being invaded w/o the bother of a VALID search warrant (i.e., one based on genuine “probable cause”, with a particular description of the place(s) to be search and item(s) to be seized, if found, as described in the text of the Fourth Amendment), the courts, ever since the Carroll decision of 1925 (arose out of a case involving a car suspected of carrying contraband liquor in violation of the then-Volstead Act) more or less opened the door for the “coppers” to “toss” your vehicle at will on whatever whim. Courts have even decided that there’s no “expectation of privacy” with a motor vehicle, regardless of whether the item(s) in question were in plain view, or the vehicle in question was a motorhome, a mobile home, or a car in a “non-op” status on one’s private property, even in the GARAGE! Now, I suppose that if you have “contraband” item(s) in your ride, it’s on you, but there have been documented cases of cops PLANTING drugs or other bad things on those they wanted to bust. So, more or less, you run the risk of being FRAMED by any LEO that has a hard-on for you.

    What’s also disturbing is that vehicles are easily tracked in their movements, as to speed and/or itinerary. I don’t recall that when I bought my 2020 Fusion from the Ford dealer in Folsom, CA, in October 2019, that I agreed that LEOs, government spooks, PIs, and other “spooks” could readily track me, thanks to the built-in navigation system, but I’ll bet it’s somewhere in that purchase agreement in the fine print. I can well imagine that if the “Big Guy”, or more precisely, those that propped him up to be the “Groomer-in-Chief”, to infest 1600 Pennsylvania Ave in DC, don’t want me to get about so readily, they can order it, and “mysteriously”, my car won’t start at all! More than likely, there’d be some system of “social credit”, which, if my “score” drops to a low level, as is done in Red China, I’d get some “warnings” to “knock it off”, and if I insist on my First AND Second Amendment rights anyway, well, my right thumb will get a work out. Forget a bus pass, THOSE, believe it or not, can be denied if you’re on the TSA’s “shit list”.

  4. Had to buy a programmed key for the Ford truck, one was lost. The cost was 118 dollars plus tax, a sum you pay, you need two keys. No key means you are out of luck.

    My 1958 Ford 860N 4-cylinder 39 horsepower tractor with a three-point hitch has a key, you place it in the ignition, turn the key to on, you use your left foot to depress the clutch pedal, the trans is in neutral, then you push the start button. The start button is the same size and shape as a dim/bright floor switch in days of old. You push it with your thumb, the engine fires, starts right up. It’s a Ford tractor, it starts right now, never fail.

    It won’t start if the transmission is not in neutral.

    The tractor is in year 64, close enough. Add new engine oil, change gear oils, it will go for years on end.

    Was changed to a 12 volt system and electronic ignition when the engine was overhauled about 25 years ago. Not a lot of hours since then.

    The Carrington Event in 1859 caused the Northern Lights to appear at the equator.

    A coronal mass ejection hit the earth dead center, let’s put it that way.

    Less than 2 percent of the sun’s energy reaches the earth, the sun shines everywhere not just on the planet. Humans are just plain selfish to believe the sun just shines here on earth, wrong.

    Kind of how Bill Gates thinks, me thinks. What you call a blockhead, just even considering reducing the sun’s rays to not reach the earth says it is time to do something about Bill, not in his right mind.

    Bill Gates needs to expand his lunacy to the entire solar system, not just to blocking out the sun’s energy on this god-forsaken earth. Freaking amateur.

    Destroy the entire solar system, block the sun’s rays to infinity and beyond. Go big or go home. Bill can do it!

    Bill flies in a private jet, that means you must sacrifice everything says Klaus.

    No hope for Klaus. He can repent, which is good advice for Klaus. The lunatics are in charge, run for your lives.

    I’ll drive my truck to the beer store and hope Bill begs for forgiveness.

    Gandhi’s seven social sins:

    Wealth without work
    Pleasure without conscience
    Knowledge without character
    Commerce without morality
    Science without humanity
    Worship without sacrifice
    Politics without principle

    Pretty much sums it all up then sums up all of it.

  5. For some weird reason seeing the pictures of the now-old-fashioned sets of keys-and the different ones separate from the trunk keys-reminds me of the bright/dim button that used to be on the floor board. Not sure why, maybe it is a reminder of how far forward (or backwards?) society has come (or gone)? And then again, I remember asking an old timer a few years ago what his first vehicle was. To which he replied, “a 1930 Ford”, and then maybe I still have a few years left, and am not so old-ha ha.

    • Hi Shadow,

      My TA also has the floor mounted dimmer switch! I like this much more than the stalk-type control. But them, I also like orange cars with gigantic decals of angry mythical fowl on their hoods, too!

      • Disagree. If you live in a climate where you are knee-deep in snow and an evil mixture of road salt, snow and other crap gets tracked into your vehicle all winter long and freezes your floor-mounted dimmer switch over night and corrodes it after a few years… you’d welcome the stalk-mounted switch.

        Winter in the North is hell on cars.

        • Nice diversion from the ‘they’ want us all dead thread. (They do.)

          Seriously.

          You write, “snow and other crap gets tracked into your vehicle all winter long and freezes your floor-mounted dimmer switch over night and corrodes”

          …I never had that happen. I live in Iowa. They love road salt here… and, it snows, A Lot. I’ve owned quite a number of cheap beater vehicles with floor dimmer switches.

          …Never once.

          I suppose, YMMV.

          Tonite, I hope I dream of floor dimmer switches, pulling back on the vents near the floorboard & opening up the wings on the front section of the windows of my old GTO.

          “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow what a ride!”

          ― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

      • Don’t tell me…let me guess…you’ve got the large “barefoot” gas pedal on the right, and the “goofy foot” dimmer switch pedal on the left, correct?

    • Shadow,
      Just in case you actually thought the state was really concerned about your safety. If it was, ALL dimmer switches would still be on the floor board, operated with one’s foot, instead of having to take your hand off the wheel meeting another car in the middle of a curve.

      • Oh yes, they are soooo concerned for my “saaaaaftety”, they are willing to take all my rights away for the cause, regulate everything I buy just about out of existence, and then shoot me when I put up a fight against it. Gee, with “friends” like them, who needs enemies? And then again, who the hell asked them to keep us (or me) “safe”? It sure as hell wasn’t me.

  6. Keys have always been a problem. Keeping track of them, replacing them, having spares. My current vehicle doesn’t have an ignition key, it has a ground down short screwdriver inserted and glued to the switch slot that the keyed tumbler actuates. Long story behind that one, I also removed the steering lock (another useless device that can get you killed). I like to coast down hills with the engine off, and I do not want the steering to lock up.

    I have a 1965 Dodge Power Wagon wood truck that didn’t come with a steering lock, or any plastic facade that covers up all the crap attached to the steering column. It just has a steering column with a U clamp to hold it up with big bolts. My kids have newer trucks, impossible to work on in the woods, or even at home, unless you have an advanced degree in complicated wiring diagrams. Why, oh why, did they have to make everything more and more complicated I ask.

    Everything is getting more expensive and complicated, as if that is better to have all these convienences. What is wrong with simplicity and reliability – especially if you planning on driving it for 50 years? What is one of Murphy’s Laws, the more parts, the less reliable?

    Hillarious: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~fgandon/miscellaneous/murphy/

    Murphy’s general laws

    Nothing is as easy as it looks.
    Everything takes longer than you think.
    Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
    If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong. Corollary: If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.
    If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
    If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which a procedure can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.
    Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
    If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
    Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
    Mother nature is a bitch.
    It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
    Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first.
    The Light at the end of the tunnel is only the light of an oncoming train.

    way more at the link, and good for a laugh

    • I have a Super 7 clone it has a carburetor, points and condenser, centrifugal advance, no vacuum lines, cable throttle and clutch, no brake booster, no doors, (it has a soft roof and doors that are removable), it is dead simple, easy to work on.

      It weighs 1200 lb so is easy on brakes and tires, it has a Lampredi 2.0 lt 4 cyl engine which gets good fuel economy. It is quick with only 120 hp and short gears, it has a 5 speed trans, so is good on the highway. More fun to drive then anything else on the road….It is the exact opposite of a nanny state car. It is a 1957 design…things were better 65 years ago….

      Simpler and lighter is better.

      Here is the brother to it but with a 434 C.I. SBC engine….it has run a best 8.90 sec. 1/4 mile….quicker then all the hyper cars

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn2lHb7N3uQ

      • Anon,

        I envy you, amigo! I would love to have one of those things (Lotus 7/clone). I wish I had bought a kit when I could still afford such things…

  7. I call it “Contrived Complexity for Job Security”. IT departments and tech “geniuses” are forever trying to add extra steps to the simplest processes. The Law of Diminishing Return is lost on these people.

    As to remote control. In the 90s, when On-Star was relatively new, there was a news item about a woman whose Escalade was stolen in St. Pete FL. She called the cops, naturally, and they contacted On-Star. After telling the cops where the vehicle was the cops the surrounded it in traffic with unmarked cars. At that point they told On-Star to shut it down. They did. The perp arrested. The car recovered. The populace cheered. Some of us, however, got a cold chill down our backs with what this seemed to portend.

  8. Another thing that can’t be hacked are sales figures for EeeVeeees. Ford’s Nov 2022 results, for instance. F-150 Lightning sales totaled 2,062. Source:

    https://tinyurl.com/y2u4ekt4

    Whereas total truck sales were 81,210. While IC-engined F-150 sales aren’t broken out separately from F-250, F-350, and F-450 models, assume that conventional F-150s are two-thirds of the ‘Truck’ total, or 54,140.

    Thus, EeeVeeee F-150s were only 3.8% of total F-150 sales: not exactly a land rush.

    I contend that F-150 Lightning sales may never exceed 10 percent of all F-150s, unless the IC-engined ones are forcibly removed from the market.

    Elsewhere in the report linked above, Ford crows about a 103% increase in all EeeVee sales … to a glorious 6,255, up from around 3,080 last year.

    Let’s call those totals what they are: chiiiiiiiiickenshit.

    • The reality is that the automakers will have to discontinue ICE to get people to buy electric. Because they sure aren’t now, and they sure won’t anytime soon.

      Electric truck sales for Ford so far are barely a blip.

      • I think that the powers-that-be know many Americans do not want electric vehicles. Which suits them just fine, because in the end game, only the globalists will be “allowed” to drive. Their end-game is to force the rest of us out of our vehicles. Getting rid of ICE (and the rest of our freedoms) is one more step towards that goal.

  9. Really need affordable third party replacements for these systems. That is the key to stopping this nonsense. When you can fix for a few hundred dollars instead of having to buy a replacement, most people will have to fix because that is what they can afford. However the government and the automakers will do all they can to stop that from happening.

    Third party is especially important in the future when the automakers drop “support” for older vehicles. They will because they see the smart phone business and want to be like that instead. Replace the whole thing instead of repairing. We see it already with no replacement batteries for some electric car models.

    What sucks about this planned obsolescence is that for the most part today’s vehicles could last longer, engines (outside of the electronics) and bodies often are in good condition when they are no longer economical to fix.

  10. A few observations:
    1. My 1960 MGA had a “Start” button.
    Procedure to start engine:
    A) Insert key in ignition lock (easily defeated by a determined thief, but, hey, the car had plexiglass side curtains)
    B) Turn key 90 degrees right, listen as the electric fuel pump pressurizes the fuel system.
    C) Press large black “Start” button to engage starter motor.
    Conclusion: Nothing inherently wrong with a “Start” button.
    2. My 2013 BMW 3 series had an electronic “key” and a “Start” button
    When my house was broken into, thieves stole the spare ignition key, with obvious intent to steal the vehicle. Their intention was thwarted, but cost for a reprogrammed electronic key was, IIRC, ~$1600.
    Conclusion: Key security is paramount, regardless of key technology. I no longer keep a spare key in the top drawer of my desk, and neither should you.
    3. The street on which I live ends in a “T” intersection two blocks away. Some years ago, a car thief running from “da po-leece” ran out of road and crashed into the house directly across from the “T” intersection. As I recall, none of the residents were injured, but they were forced out of their home until repairs could be completed, which, evidently due to “red tape,” took about a year. Bummer for them. Had the police had the ability to disable the stolen vehicle, these innocent bystanders might have been spared the inconvenience.
    Conclusion: Remote “kill” switches have legitimate uses.
    Another clearly legitimate “use case” is wrong way drivers, whether inadvertent (likely DUI) or outlaws on the run. Today’s alternative is a high powered rifle, shot from a helicopter.
    Not much of a choice, I would say.

    • Quick,
      Another observation:
      At what point does one’s privacy and control of one’s property weigh less than “convenience”? While one may legitimize most any imposition of authority, one can equally, or better, well legitimize any imposition of one’s autonomy. I lean towards my autonomy, regardless how inconvenient it may be.
      While such control CAN be used for benefit, it can equally, and more likely, be used for far more nefarious purpose.
      “We don’t like what you said on Facebook. No more driving for you.”

    • Momentum is a thing.

      Sudden loss of control of a moving vehicle is highly likely to cause many more problems than it solves.

      Such tools can also be mis-used, and they undoubtedly will. It is well established by now that the cerulean swine will face no meaningful accountability for such actions.

  11. The more complex a system, the more likely it is to fail. Whether that failure is in function or control.
    The convenience of such “keys” is barely noticeable, and I doubt anyone would even notice not having it. But it’s part of the “package” that we didn’t want in the first place.
    I had one of these “keys” in an 08 Miata. Guess what? These keys cannot be replaced with ordinary chipped keys. You either buy the 3-4 hundred dollar “programable” key, or do without. Sure, the “programable” key has a mechanical key back up, but you must buy the “programable” key to get it.
    The ever consuming pursuit of convenience results in the complete absence of convenience. Your car not starting at your pleasure is hardly convenient. Others in charge of that control is the antithesis of convenience.
    But then again, walking biking or public transport doesn’t require that control. YET!
    If it were not for the high compression of modern engines, I wouldn’t mind having to hand crank one to start it. Once upon a time, some airplane engines were thus started.

  12. You can hack (pick) an old style lock. More easily than the modern ones.

    But you can do it with the modern ones too. Physical access still required. Not sure it’s a win.

    • Publius,
      Is physical access still required? Not so sure myself. If your car is “connected” can it not be controlled remotely? Including the locks?
      Perhaps I’m speaking out of turn, since none of my vehicles are connected. Nor will they ever be. I’d rather walk. Or drive my tractor. Which isn’t either.

      • Only if it takes wireless input, and if the system that takes wireless input is somehow connected to the other controls. Which any well-designed system would avoid doing, for obvious reasons. And modern vehicles do not avoid, for reasons which are much less obvious.

  13. Momentary contact closures (push buttons) are about as simple a component as you can get. Two surfaces and a spring. Costs next to nothing, even with adding LEDs and silkscreened instructions. A low-energy RF chip like an ESP32-C3 (which is far more complex than the key fob in your pocket) is available to mere mortals from DigiKey for $1.10 each. Imagine the price if you buy so many you’ve got a chip fab on speed dial. And software is a one time cost that is spread out to every vehicle sold forever, as long as your coders aren’t idiots (which apparently was the case here… whoops).

    Compare that to matching locksets that are mostly unique for every vehicle. Or at least have enough variation that it is hard to get a complete set. And engine start systems are mechanically complex, with wiper contacts, detents, steering locks, etc. All that stuff has to line up just so on the assembly line.

    So someone in the QC department does an analysis of QC logs and determined that an unacceptable amount of rework was needed. Or it took 97 seconds to install. Meetings were called. Projects were planned. Designs were workshopped. Then marketing got to chime in. Accounting calculated the cost-benefit and executives signed off.

    It’s all great until the damn thing breaks. That’s when the clever software idea becomes a mess. You don’t want just anyone able to program the fobs, because that would open up security holes. And the fob programmer was set up to work at the factory, on the factory network, not out in the field. So now you have to open up a link back to the factory, which automatically introduces a security nightmare. And set up accounts for authorized fob programmers, who aren’t going to value your network’s security as much as you are, so now there’s another layer added to the onion. Oh yea, and tech support for when the damn thing won’t work, which means at least an email box and more likely a small call center. Pretty soon supporting that $1 fob costs the factory $40 or more, which they are happy to pass along to the dealer. That dealer then passes along his charges, which are at monopoly price gouging rates just because of the hassle.

    I’m reminded of the scene from The Fifth Element where Zorg explains Keynesian economics.

    https://youtu.be/krcNIWPkNzA

  14. ‘What has been gained?’ — eric

    Old engineering acronym: KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid

    Stupid simple is inherently robust. Complex, connected systems are not. They have many more failure modes, some of which are catastrophic.

    Both my daily drivers — a compact SUV and a small pickup — are 25 years old. Soon they’ll be 30 … and I feel fine.

    Don’t need no stinkin’ sail fawn on wheels. Don’t need no giant infotainment screen. Don’t need no floppy-toed clown shoes.

    What do you call a hundred new cars at the bottom of the sea? A good start. Ah ha ha ha …

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