Just yesterday I posted the link to the lock picking championship and said that since mechanical locks were so vulnerable, electronic keys would be much more necessary. Today, we find out the code to those keys has been cracked.
Graduate students at Johns Hopkins University have come up with a system, using off the shelf computer equipment and some home brewed software, that can read the code from security keys (NYT registration required) used in many of today’s new cars, trucks and motorcycles. The keys broadcast their code so a car knows it’s the right key, but the students developed equipment that can also ask the keys for their code. So if you have one in your pocket and someone with the right equipment is close to you, they can read your key. Right now, the equipment is large and cumbersome but once you have the knowledge of how it works it can be shrunk down to a portable size.
This isn’t something the casual joyrider will have available and it’s not something you can buy but given time, organized crime will be able to duplicate this work and the security process will have to go up to the next level. Readers for credit cards are available now that enable criminals to read the magnetic stripe and then duplicate cards, key reading and duplicating equipment will eventually show up, too.